Assessing Obama’s Job Approval at the One-Month Mark

by Lydia Saad

Receives solid approval, but not extraordinary in historical terms

PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama remains highly popular among the U.S. public at the end of his first month in office. However, the 63% of Americans currently approving of his job performance is down slightly from his initial 68% rating in January. The percentage disapproving has doubled, from 12% to 24%.


Increased public disapproval of Obama over the past month is mainly offset by a decrease in the percentage of Americans saying they have no opinion of his job performance. The latest figures are based on Gallup Poll Daily tracking from Feb. 19-21.

These shifts result in a slightly different profile for Obama relative to past presidents than what he enjoyed in the immediate afterglow of his inauguration. While Obama's initial 68% job approval rating was one of the highest in Gallup polling history (from Dwight Eisenhower through George W. Bush), his current 63% job approval rating is typical of how the last several presidents have fared at the one-month mark.


According to Gallup polling on all elected presidents from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush (this excludes Gerald Ford, who assumed office after Nixon resigned), the range of job approval for new presidents after about a month in office extends from 55% for Ronald Reagan to 71% for Jimmy Carter. The average one-month approval rating for all six past presidents is 62% -- nearly identical to Obama's current 63%.

The average first-month disapproval rating for these same past presidents was 16%. However, Obama's slightly higher 24% disapproval score is similar to those seen for the most recent two presidents -- Bush and Bill Clinton -- perhaps owing to heightened partisanship or media scrutiny in recent years.

Republican Support Slipping Away

Obama has not retained his initial level of job approval mainly because rank-and-file Republicans -- who already lagged well behind Democrats in their approval of Obama in January -- have quickly become even more critical.

According to weekly aggregates of Gallup Poll Daily tracking interviews, Obama has lost no support from Democrats and independents since taking office, but his approval rating from Republicans has dropped steadily week by week, from 41% at the start of his term to just 30% today.


More precisely, the steepest drop in approval of Obama has come from conservative Republicans, whose support descended from 36% in his first, partial week on the job (Jan. 21-25) to 22% by his fourth week (Feb. 9-15). Approval among liberal and moderate Republicans fell only slightly over the same period, from 53% to 47%.


The only other substantial change seen in approval of Obama among demographic subgroups is an 11-point drop among upper-middle-income Americans (those making from $5,000 to $7,499 per month), from 69% approval in Obama's first week as president to 58% in his fourth. This could reflect variations by household income in Americans' reactions to the economic stimulus bill (Gallup's Feb. 10 survey on the stimulus bill found the least support for it by income among this group). Nevertheless, overall, support for Obama remains quite high among all income groups.


Bottom Line

All newly elected presidents start off with a relatively high approval score, as well as a high percentage of Americans expressing "no opinion" about their job performance. As they start to make decisions, deliver speeches, and work with Congress, fewer Americans have "no opinion" about their performance, and most presidents see an initial rise in their approval rating. Historically, that rise has been evident after a month, and continues at least through the first 100 days.

The traditional presidential honeymoon period seems to be following a different pattern so far in the Obama presidency -- previously seen only for Bill Clinton's -- in which the balance of opinion about him has become more negative rather than more positive as more people have been able to judge his job performance. The fact that the decline is seen exclusively among Republicans, however, could mean that the bottom has been reached, or at least that Obama's approval won't fall much further, as long as Democrats and independents continue to support the economic recovery policies now largely defining Obama and his administration.

Survey Methods

The latest results are based on telephone interviews with 1,614 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 19-21, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Results based on weekly aggregates of Gallup Poll Daily tracking are based on interviews with approximately 3,000 national adults.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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