Politics

Obama Averages 47.9% Job Approval as President

Obama Averages 47.9% Job Approval as President
by Jeffrey M. Jones

Story Highlights

  • Only Truman, Ford, Carter had lower averages as president
  • Final job approval rating of 59% among the highest for presidents
  • Obama ratings avoided extreme highs, lows

WASHINGTON, D.C -- Barack Obama finished his tenure as president with a 47.9% average job approval rating. He ranks below eight presidents and ahead of only three -- Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Harry Truman -- in Gallup's polling history.

Job Approval Averages for U.S. Presidents Since World War II
Dates Average Job Approval
%
Kennedy Jan. 20, 1961-Nov. 22, 1963 70.1
Eisenhower Jan. 20, 1953-Jan. 19, 1961 65.0
G.H.W. Bush Jan. 20, 1989-Jan. 19, 1993 60.9
Clinton Jan. 20, 1993-Jan. 19, 2001 55.1
Johnson Nov. 22, 1963-Jan. 19, 1969 55.1
Reagan Jan. 20, 1981-Jan. 19, 1989 52.8
G.W. Bush Jan. 20, 2001-Jan. 19, 2009 49.4
Nixon Jan. 20, 1969-Aug. 9, 1974 49.0
Obama Jan. 20, 2009-Jan. 19, 2017 47.9
Ford Aug. 9, 1974-Jan. 19, 1977 47.2
Carter Jan. 20, 1977-Jan. 19, 1981 45.5
Truman April 12, 1945-Jan 19, 1953 45.4
Gallup

John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush, all of whom averaged better than 60% job approval while in office, have the highest averages. Three others -- Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan -- have averages above the majority level. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, falls just below the majority level at 49.4%.

Despite subpar approval ratings for much of his presidency, Obama finished strong. His final job approval rating, based on Jan. 17-19 Gallup Daily tracking, was 59%. Only Clinton (66%) and Reagan (63%) had higher scores in Gallup's last measurement of their approval ratings, while Eisenhower (59%) and Kennedy (58%) had similar final ratings.

Obama began his presidency with approval ratings in the high 60s, among the best for a newly elected president. But by the end of his first year, his approval ratings fell to near 50% and dropped below the majority level early in his second year. After his first year, he received sustained majority approval only once more during his first term in office. Fortunately for him, that came during his 16th quarter in office -- around the time he was re-elected in the fall of 2012. Shortly after his second term began, his support dipped back into the 40s and did not return to the majority level again until his final year in office. His 32nd and final quarter job approval average of 55.7% was his third-highest as president.

President Obama's Quarterly Job Approval Averages

Obama's average job approval ratings were generally similar in his first (49.1%) and second (46.7%) terms as president.

Obama Ratings Mainly Avoided Extremes

Obama's highest individual job approval measurement in office was 69%, in January 2009 during the first few days of his presidency. He is one of only three presidents, along with Richard Nixon and Reagan, never to register an approval rating in the 70s.

And while he never achieved extremely high ratings, neither did he achieve extreme lows. At various points in his presidency his approval ratings dipped to 38%. This included in August and October 2011 after contentious negotiations over the debt ceiling limit and subsequent downgrading of the U.S. credit rating. Obama also failed to generate sufficient support for legislation designed to address the still-weak employment situation.

Obama's approval ratings also fell to 38% in September 2014, shortly after the Islamic State terrorist group released videos showing the beheadings of U.S. journalists captured overseas. Those incidents came on the heels of a summer of increased international tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and between Israel and the Palestinians. Domestically, the deaths of young black men Eric Garner and Michael Brown in confrontations with white police officers led to increased racial tensions.

All other presidents except Eisenhower and Kennedy fell below 38% at some point in their presidencies, with five different presidents receiving ratings below 30%.

Job Approval Highs and Lows for U.S. Presidents Since World War II
High Approval Rating Date of High Low Approval Rating Date of Low
% %
Obama 69 Jan. 2009 38 Aug. 2011; Oct. 2011; Sep. 2014
G.W. Bush 90 Sept. 2001 25 Oct. 2008
Clinton 73 Dec. 1998 37 June 1993
G.H.W. Bush 89 Feb. 1991 29 July 1992
Reagan 68 May 1981; May 1986 35 Jan. 1983
Carter 75 March 1977 28 June 1979
Ford 71 Aug. 1974 37 Jan. 1975; March 1975
Nixon 67 Nov. 1969; Jan. 1973 24 July 74; Aug. 1974
Johnson 79 Feb. 1964 35 Aug. 1968
Kennedy 83 April-May 1961 56 Sept. 1963
Eisenhower 79 Dec. 1956 48 March-April 1958
Truman 87 June 1945 22 Feb. 1952
Gallup

The 31-point range between Obama's high and low approval ratings ties with Eisenhower as the second-smallest in Gallup's records, behind Kennedy's 27-point range.

Obama's approval ratings are notable for the absence of a major "rally event." These incidents, often involving a threat to U.S. security, galvanize the public and result in a surge in support for government leaders. For example, George W. Bush registered the all-time high job approval rating of 90% after the 9/11 terror attacks. The elder George H.W. Bush had an 89% approval rating after the U.S. victory in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Obama did enjoy a modest surge in support, to 52% after the capture of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, but otherwise his support moved more gradually when it did change.

Obama's ratings were likely also held in check by the historic party polarization in his ratings. Republicans consistently gave him low job approval ratings -- never above 20% after a honeymoon phase ended in mid-2009. In contrast, Democratic support was mostly 80% or higher throughout his term in office.

Implications

Despite relatively strong approval ratings at the beginning and end of his presidency, Obama's average job approval rating for his entire presidency was lackluster, weighed down by a long period of sub-50% ratings. That partly reflects the fact that the country didn't suffer any major wars or international incidents that might have produced a "rally effect." On the other hand, it does reflect entrenched polarization, with very limited Republican support throughout his presidency.

His lackluster support may to some degree reflect his governing in a time of consistently low satisfaction with the state of the nation, low trust in government and diminished confidence in major U.S. institutions. It may also reflect some of his policies, most notably the divisive Affordable Care Act and his attempt to use executive orders to advance his immigration policy, something he was unable to accomplish through the legislative process.

A president's overall approval average is one indication of how well he did his job, but often a president's ratings at the end of his presidency have a greater impact on how he is remembered. Reflecting this, Americans believe that Obama will be judged more positively than negatively by history, and predict he will go down in history as a better president than several of his predecessors who had higher average approval ratings.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 20, 2016-Jan. 19, 2017, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 42,122 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup U.S. Daily works.


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