Gallup: Obama Approval Edges Past Reelection High

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the U.S economy from the briefing room of the White House May 6, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the contentious 2016 primary season. According to Gallup, the President’s latest approval rating has hit 53 percent, one point higher than he earned on his reelection in November 2012.

In November 2012, as President Obama was poised to easily win reelection, his approval rating was 52 percent, while 45 percent of Americans disapproved of Obama’s performance as President. Today, his ratings are 3 points better, with 53 percent of Americans approving and 43 percent disapproving of Obama’s tenure.

After a reelection honeymoon period, Obama’s approval rating went upside-down again in late Spring 2013. In 2014, Obama’s approval rating averaged just 46 percent. That year, Republicans captured the U.S. Senate and expanded their political standing in states across the country.

His approval rating stayed underwater until this March, when both the Republican and Democrat contests intensified. His current approval bounce follows a familiar pattern. Through almost all of 2012, the year he was reelected, more Americans disapproved of Obama’s handling of the Presidency than approved. It was only in the final month of the reelection campaign, when the election neared, that Obama’s approval rating moved back into positive territory.

Obama’s current approval rating of 53 percent is a notch higher than it was when he was reelected. It is also nearing the 57 percent approval rating he earned in 2009, his first year in office. Obama’s improved standing in the eyes of American voters could have a big impact on the Presidential contest in November.

Obama’s approval ratings are currently equivalent to Ronald Reagan’s at this point in the 1988 Presidential campaign. Reagan was polling just above 50 percent as the 1988 contest to succeed him began in earnest. His Vice President, George H.W. Bush went on to win the office in a landslide.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton’s approval ratings were much higher at the beginning of 2000. His approval ratings were around 60 percent, yet his Vice President, Al Gore, went on to lose the Presidency in the closest election in modern political history.

Barack Obama’s own election in 2008 was helped considerably by the very low approval ratings of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The two-term Republican’s approval rating was just 38 percent at the start of 2008. Bush, however, faced crises both on the international stage and the domestic economy at this time.

Obama potentially faces similar problems in the last year of his presidency. Outside events, either on the world stage or within the US economy may very well have a significant impact on the 2016 election. As things stand now, though, Obama is poised to be a positive factor in Hillary Clinton’s quest for the White House.

Obama’s improved approval standing could also be a feature of the highly competitive contests in both parties to succeed him. As primary campaigns engage in bitter internecine warfare, the relative stability of the current occupant of the Oval Office looks more appealing.

With both parties coming to the end of their primary contests, though, the internal party battles will settle and voters will focus increasingly on the selection of the next President. Obama’s approval rating may dip as the choices become clearer and voters become more positive to his replacements.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, however, remain unpopular with large segments of the American public. Obama has spent most of his Presidential tenure with tepid approval numbers. His numbers improve only when the Presidency itself is on the ballot.

Americans may not care much for Obama as President, but they have so far preferred him to any other alternatives.