Politics

Obama Approval Picks Up in May

by Lydia Saad

Still, only 25% say they would definitely vote to re-elect him in 2012

PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama appears to be slightly more popular with Americans at the start of his second 100 days in office than he was, on average, during his first 100. Gallup Poll Daily tracking from May 7-9 finds 66% of Americans approving of how he is handling his job, compared with an average 63% from January through April.

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Obama's approval rating has registered 66% or better in each Gallup three-day rolling average since May 2. His 68% approval rating reported on May 3 is tied for the second highest of his presidency, exceeded only by the 69% recorded immediately after his inauguration. And except for one 66% approval rating in late April, all of Obama's previous 66% to 68% readings were obtained near the start of his term.

Job approval is typically an important barometer of a president's re-election chances, and a 66% approval rating in the first half of 2012 would almost guarantee Obama's success in that endeavor. However, that is three years away, and, as Gallup presidential approval trends show, things can change -- sometimes radically -- over a president's first term. But despite today's seemingly positive environment for Obama, a separate Gallup question, asked in late April, indicates the degree to which Americans are keeping an open mind on the next election.

On balance, the majority of Americans nationwide say they would be inclined to vote for Obama in the 2012 presidential election: 53% say they would definitely or probably vote for him while 37% say they definitely or probably would not. Another 9% offer no opinion. This is based on people's early impressions about Obama, with no references to who his Republican opponent might be. (The figures are about the same among all registered voters.)

The challenge for Obama is that only 25% of Americans say they would definitely vote for him, while the same number say they would definitely not vote for him.

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A similar question asked about then-President Bill Clinton in June 1994 and January 1995 found less than half of Americans in each survey saying they would definitely or probably vote to re-elect him in 1996. Only 11% in both surveys said they would definitely vote for him while a third or more said they would definitely not vote for him. However, Clinton's concurrent approval ratings were less than 50%, far lower than Obama's is today. (Of course, Clinton's approval ratings recovered in 1996, and he handily won re-election against Bob Dole.)

Nine in 10 Democrats are inclined to vote for Obama in 2012, assuming he runs, including 51% who say they would definitely vote for him. Naturally, the comparable figures are much smaller among Republicans: only 16% lean toward voting for him, and just 6% are definite.

However, there is also room for improvement among independents. Overall, more independents say they are likely to vote for Obama than say they are not likely to vote for him, but not by a large margin: 46% vs. 40%. Also, only 15% of independents -- not much greater than the figure among Republicans -- say they would definitely vote for him. In fact, nearly twice as many independents say they would definitely not vote for Obama as say they definitely would (26% vs. 15%).

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Right now, 92% of Democrats and 66% of independents approve of the job Obama is doing; only 30% of Republicans approve. So independents clearly feel positively about Obama's performance in office. But not being anchored to him along party lines, they are much more willing to consider their options in 2012.

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Bottom Line

Obama continues to win high public approval for his performance in office despite a first 100 days packed with numerous major domestic and foreign policy decisions, some of which were politically risky. Not only is he maintaining his "honeymoon" approval ratings, but he seems to be improving on them.

At this very early juncture, while Obama can seemingly count on Democrats' remaining solidly in his corner, independents are far less committed to him. From Obama's vantage point, he will clearly need to pay close attention to his ratings from political independents over the next three and a half years and, if possible, increase the percentage who, at least in principle, would vote for him regardless of who runs on the GOP side.

Survey Methods

The latest job approval figures are based on telephone interviews with 1,557 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 7-9, 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.

The results on the likelihood of voting for Barack Obama in 2012 are based on telephone interviews with 1,051 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 20-21, 2009. 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.

Interviews for both studies were 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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