No president since Lyndon B. Johnson has won reelection without a job approval… (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images )
New figures from Gallup place President Obama’s reelection bid in a precarious gray zone between the one-term exit of presidents like George H.W. Bush, and successful second-term victories like those of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Combining Obama’s job approval rating with several evaluations of public sentiment on the economy, Gallup’s indicators show that the president is performing better than he was just a year ago, but his numbers are nonetheless lackluster compared with those of his predecessors.
For example, since Lyndon B. Johnson, no president has won reelection without a job approval rating of at least 49% in the May before the election. Those whose bids failed -- the elder Bush, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter -- all had approval ratings of 43% or lower. Obama currently sits at 47%. George W. Bush’s approval rating did drop to 47% in July 2004, but it swung back up to 50% by the following October.
Another indicator of the viability of Obama’s reelection is how Americans feel about the economy. Pooling together five different issues under the economic heading, Gallup found that 66% of Americans currently place the economy as the “most important problem” facing the country, the highest May figure since 1980, when the incumbent Carter eventually lost to Ronald Reagan. There is some wiggle room in this indicator, as concern over the economy jumped to 65% in the July before Reagan’s reelection bid then fell to 51% in October. But these findings nonetheless place Obama among George H.W. Bush, Carter and Ford.
Current satisfaction with the direction of the country also puts Obama in some inauspicious company. Twenty-four percent are pleased with the current trajectory, which is comparable only to 20% during George H.W. Bush’s only term.
Despite these findings, and earlier polls putting Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney neck-and-neck nationwide, 56% of Americans still think that Obama will win the election, with just 36% predicting a Romney victory. Predictably, these dispositions shift across party lines, with 81% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans anticipating victory for their respective candidate. Notably, 58% of independents foresee a second term for Obama, and the share of all respondents who predicted an Obama win was greater than in a June 2008 poll that found 52% predicting Obama’s first presidential victory.
Based on Gallup’s findings, Americans may not be enthusiastic about the Obama administration, nor are they pleased with the results of his economic policies, but in what might be a reticent acceptance of the advantages of incumbency, a majority still look toward November and see another four years of Obama on the horizon, no matter how poor his chances appear compared with past reelection bids.
The poll on the likelihood of Obama’s reelection was conducted May 10-13 among a random sample of 1,012 adults with a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. The survey for satisfaction and the country’s most important problem was conducted May 3-6 with a random sample of 1,024 adults and polling for Obama’s approval rating took place between May 7-13 with a random sample of 3,653 adults with a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. All polling was conducted via telephone.