Last week brought bad news for the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the form of a record low in job approval for President Obama. Only 42 percent of adults approve of the job Obama is doing as president, according to the NBC/WSJ poll conducted October 25–28, while a majority (51 percent) disapprove. This was yet another data point in a trend line that was pointing downward for the president, at just the moment in time when the White House had hoped to focus on touting the rollout of the Affordable Care Act and basking in the post-shutdown damage done to the Republican brand.
Indeed, while rough news for the president’s team, it is true that his job-approval numbers have looked roughly this bad before. He was able to rebound, win reelection, and spend much of this year in positive territory. Is this time any different?
I believe it may be. Job approval is one measure of how an electorate feels about its leaders; favorability is another. On this measure, sometimes called the “fav-unfav,” Obama has always done quite well. Even in moments when a majority of Americans disapproved of his performance as president, he has always been at least neutral on this measure. People may not like how he’s running the country, but they don’t think he’s a bad guy.
What’s different about the last few weeks is that Obama has now crossed into negative territory on his fav-unfav, with only 41 percent holding a favorable view of the president in the most recent NBC/WSJ poll.
Consider the polling in the first year after George W. Bush’s reelection. Prior to Katrina, he too had faced dips in job approval, but his favorability had always been a net positive. July 2005 was the last time the NBC/WSJ poll would show less than 50 percent of Americans disapproving of the job Bush did. By the time November 2005 rolled around, Bush’s favorables were down to 38 as was his job approval. Neither his job approval nor his favorables ever really recovered.
Obama’s job-approval numbers are not good news for his administration. They could, of course, still come back into positive territory over the next year or three. However, the fact that fewer Americans view him favorably is a signal that bringing those job-approval numbers back up could be a greater challenge than it has been before.