As of today, President Obama’s approval rating is only 42 percent in Gallup, while Rasmussen’s Presidential Approval Index shows that only 23 percent of likely voters “strongly approve” of Obama’s performance as president, compared to 44 percent who “strongly disapprove” — matching the highest “strongly disapprove” tally in Rasmussen’s index since November. In other words, the debt ceiling debate doesn’t seem to be doing Obama any favors.
But the long-term picture is even more telling. According to Gallup, President Obama’s approval rating for the past quarter (his tenth in office) was 47 percent. That now marks six consecutive quarters that Obama has failed to reach 50 percent in Gallup’s quarterly polling. This, in turn, begs a question: How many more sub-50 percent quarters must come and go before it’ll be okay to start calling Obama an unpopular president?
Obama, of course, hasn’t always been unpopular. During his first two quarters in office, his approval ratings in Gallup’s quarterly polling soared above 60 percent. Then his quarterly approval ratings dropped sharply—to 53 percent in his third quarter, 51 percent in his fourth, and below 50 percent ever since. So, what happened?
Obamacare happened. Or, to be more exact, Obama made Obamacare happen.
In July 2009, the Obamacare debate really caught the full attention of the American people. Google registers 207,000 hits for “Obamacare” in June 2009. In July, that tally rose to 544,000, before hitting 701,000 in August — the month of the town hall uprisings — a mark that wasn’t eclipsed until March 2010, the month of Obamacare’s passage. So July 2009 was the approximate dividing line between the pre- and post-Obamacare parts of Obama’s presidency, at least in terms of the citizenry’s awareness of its looming threat.
July 2009 likewise marks the dividing line between the second and third quarters of Obama’s tenure. During his two pre-Obamacare quarters — from January 20, 2009 through July 19, 2009 — Obama’s average approval rating was 63 percent. During his eight post-Obamacare quarters — from July 20, 2009 through July 19, 2011 — his average approval rating was 48 percent.
Moreover, while the clearest dividing line is the start of the full-fledged Obamacare debate, it’s also telling that Obama’s first sub-50 percent quarterly rating in Gallup came during his fifth quarter — the quarter during which he signed Obamacare into law. He’s been below 50 percent in every quarterly Gallup poll taken since.
Similar numbers are found in Rasmussen's polls. In the six months before July 2009, Obama’s monthly tally in Rasmussen’s Presidential Approval Index was always positive. In the 23 months since July 2009, Obama’s monthly tally has never exceeded minus-8 percent. The economy can’t explain that.
In the wake of Massachusetts voters’ clear repudiation of Obamacare in the election of Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy, Obama told surprised congressional Democrats during his State of the Union address, “We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high and get through the next election,” or we can pass “health care reform” — basically telling them to take one for the team. But when espousing that shared sacrifice, the guess here is that Obama never thought he was talking about his own next election.
Now Obama must hope that Republican primary voters, candidates, and prospective candidates, will buy into the media spin that their fellow Americans care only about the economy, thereby leading the GOP to nominate someone who won’t — or can’t — make repeal a centerpiece of the presidential campaign.