Jan. 10, 2012
To hear his political opponents talk, the casual listener would think that President Barack Obama is about as unpopular as any president in American history. His Republican adversaries would have us believe that his defeat in November is inevitable and that no matter what Republican is sworn in as the 45th president, things will suddenly be so much better.
The Republicans had astounding success in the 2010 midterm, no doubt about it. But does that mean the GOP is a sure bet to sweep into the White House with a big win over Obama in November?
Not so fast.
Recent polling data compiled by Real Clear Politics shows that President Obama’s composite job approval rating is at 47 percent, compared to a 48.2 percent disapproval rating as of Jan. 8.
Some 16 years ago, another incumbent first-term Democratic president who took a whipping in the midterms was facing re-election. And in January of 1996, poll numbers were bleaker for then-President Bill Clinton than they are today for President Obama.
An Associated Press story from Jan. 8, 1996, reports that Clinton’s approval rating as measured by Gallup was 42 percent, some 5 percentage points lower than Obama’s composite RCP number. As of Jan. 8, Gallup’s rolling poll data was measuring Obama at 46 percent.
Moreover, the 1996 Gallup poll found Clinton trailing then-presumptive GOP nominee Sen. Bob Dole in a hypothetical matchup. In that poll, Dole received 49 percent support to Clinton’s 46 percent.
For Obama, the situation is somewhat brighter. The RCP composite data as of Jan. 9 shows the incumbent leading the GOP frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 46.7 to 44.9 percent.
Obama’s lead only grows against the other GOP candidates. Pitted against former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Obama holds a 46.5 to 41 percent lead. His composite lead over Texas Rep. Ron Paul is 47.9 to 41.1, although a CBS News poll conducted between Jan. 4 and Jan. 8 showed Paul trailing Obama by just 1 point, 46 to 45. Obama leads former House Speaker Newt Gingrich by 8.8 points, 50.3 to 41.5, and tops former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who served as his ambassador to China, by 9.7 points, 48 to 38.3. The president’s widest lead is over Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Obama polls at 50.9 percent to Perry’s 39.1 percent, a difference of 11.8 points.
It’s still a long way to Election Day on Nov. 6, but the next time you hear people talking about how Obama is doomed to defeat, you might want to remind them that Clinton was even lower in the polls in 1996 and came back to win again. They may not want to hear it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.