In a new interview with ABC, President Obama concedes that the disastrous rollout of Obamacare has taken a toll on his approval ratings. But he believes the public's opinion of his work will rise again. "I've gone up and down pretty much consistently throughout," Obama said. "But the good thing about when you're down is that usually you got nowhere to go but up."
That certainly sounds comforting for the president and his supporters. But is it true? Actually, there's no reason Obama's approval ratings might not continue to slide. In fact, for more than a year, Obama's ratings have been roughly tracking those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, at the same point in Bush's presidency. (You can track the ratings together at the Gallup Presidential Approval site.)
It's impossible to compare Bush's first-term ratings with Obama because Bush's approval was skewed so dramatically by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bush's approval soared to 87 percent in Gallup in October 2001, and then began a long decline. Obama's presidency began with an impressive peacetime high of 65 percent. But at that point in each man's presidency, the numbers just can't be compared.
Beginning about May 2012, though, the two presidents' approval ratings began to roughly converge. In the second week of that month, Obama's Gallup rating hit 47 percent, while Bush's had been 47 percent in May 2004, the same point in his presidency. In June of '12, the ratings stayed within a couple of points of each other. In late summer 2012, Obama's ratings actually fell below Bush's late summer '04 ratings, Obama at 45 percent to Bush's 49 percent.
The graphs of each man's ratings diverge a little — Bush was higher in December 2012/2004, while Obama was higher in January 2013/2005. But the lines are remarkably similar. In late March 2013/2005, both men were at 48 percent. In May, they were a point apart. In June, they were a point apart. In August, they were both at 45 percent. Same in late September. In late October, Obama was at 43 percent to Bush's 42 percent. In late November, Obama was at 40 percent, to Bush's 43 percent.
Of course, that's as far as Obama's numbers go. But we can see Bush's numbers continue through 2005 and 2006: 43 percent, then 40 percent, then 37 percent, then 31 percent in May '06. Then, after a year of meandering around, 29 percent in July 2007, 28 percent May '08; and 25 percent as the economy crashed in October 2008.
There's no reason Obama's job approval numbers have to follow Bush's downward path, even though they have been on a Bush-like trajectory for more than a year. Times are different, people are different, events are unpredictable. On the other hand, there is also no reason to conclude that Obama, at around 40 percent approval today has "nowhere to go but up." Down is also a very real possibility.