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As President Obama begins the second hundred days of his second term, his approval ratings are hovering just below the 50 percent mark. That's not a good sign, if recent history is any guide.

Looking at Gallup's tracking poll for presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton, it quickly becomes clear that there are no regular patterns. Public opinion of the presidents varies widely over time. We plotted the Gallup results using the day of each president's inauguration as day zero of each term, showing the first term of each as a blue line and the second as a red line.

Click to view approval ratings for... Obama | Bush | Clinton

Note that the vertical axis on each graph is the same, though the horizontal one is not.

Bush and Clinton followed very different tracks. Bush started with an approval lower than Obama's but higher than Clinton's in his first term, then saw it jump after 9/11. After that, it declined steadily until it dropped off the scale. Clinton's approval largely stumbled around between 50 and 60 percent, after gradually increasing over his first term. Obama's first term saw his approval drop significantly and then recover. His current approval is marked by the horizontal red line above.

Obama's position is probably worse than it looks. Here are approval ratings for the first 100 days for each president. (Bush and Clinton have fewer available data points.)

Obama's popularity held strong for his first 100 days, higher than his two predecessors.

And here's the first 100 days of each's second term.

Obama's approval tracks much more closely with Bush's than Clinton's. If he repeats the pattern he saw during his first term — a slow drop followed by a recovery — Obama could see fairly low popularity, right around the time of midterm elections.

But if there's one thing this polling shows, it's this: Predictions are hard to make.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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