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Obama Starts 2010 With 50% Approval

Obama Starts 2010 With 50% Approval

PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama begins his second year as president with 50% of Americans approving and 44% disapproving of his overall job performance. This is well below the 68% approval rating Obama received in his first few days as president, and matches his average for all of December -- which included many days when public support for him fell slightly below that important symbolic threshold.

Barack Obama Job Approval Rating, January 2009-January 2010

The latest job approval score is based on Gallup Daily tracking from Jan. 2-4, 2010 -- the first Gallup Daily survey conducted entirely within the new year.

"Obama enjoys 84% approval from Democrats, but closer to 50% approval from independents (currently 47%) and minimal support from Republicans (14%)."

President Obama has been walking the public opinion tightrope represented by the 50% job approval line since about mid-November, with his rating wavering between 47% and 53%. However, even when 47% of Americans approved of Obama's overall job performance (in early December), slightly fewer Americans (46%) disapproved. Obama has yet to see his job approval rating descend to the point that more Americans disapprove than approve.

Still, Obama's initial approval rating in his second year as president is among the lowest for elected presidents since Dwight Eisenhower. Only Ronald Reagan -- who, like Obama, took office during challenging economic times -- began his second year in office with a lower approval score (49%). However, Obama's disapproval rating is slightly higher than Reagan's was (44% vs. 40%).

Job Approval at Start of Second Year in Office -- Elected Presidents Since 1952

The 50% approval threshold is important because no sitting president whose average approval rating fell below this level in the year he ran for re-election succeeded in winning a second term. However, it may not have much significance relative to re-election at the beginning of year two, as the two presidents (other than Obama) with the lowest approval ratings at this stage of their White House careers were both re-elected, and one of those with the highest approval ratings (George H.W. Bush) was not.

Generation and Gender Gaps

According to the Jan. 2-4 data, views of Obama among various population subgroups are similar to where they have stood in recent weeks. Obama enjoys 84% approval from Democrats, but closer to 50% approval from independents (currently 47%) and minimal support from Republicans (14%). A majority of nonwhites nationwide (76%) approve of the job he is doing, compared with fewer than half of whites (41%). Regionally, support for Obama ranges from a high of 58% in the Middle Atlantic states along the East Coast, down to 35% in the Rocky Mountain states.

Barack Obama Job Approval Rating, by Region

Women overall are slightly more positive about Obama's job performance than are men (54% vs. 47%), and adults under the age of 50 are more approving than those 50 and older. As a result, Gallup finds a stark difference in approval of the president between younger women and older men, with a solid majority of the former approving (58%), and a majority of the latter (55%) disapproving. By contrast, younger men and older women have generally similar views about the president.

Barack Obama Job Approval Rating, by Gender/Age

Bottom Line

The New Year's tradition of resolving to make a fresh start in areas of deficiency doesn't readily apply to public opinion of presidents. For President Obama, that means his position with the American public in 2010 starts about where it left off in 2009, which is to say hovering precariously around 50% approval.

The meaning of the 50% threshold is somewhat relative. A 50% job approval rating would have been cause for major celebration by George W. Bush for much of his second term. But given the speed at which Obama descended to this level in his first year, today it is more of a warning light that this initially muscular administration remains on the threshold of losing majority support. At the same time, 50% is symbolically superior to 49%, and perhaps offers some encouragement to Obama's supporters that 2010 will bring some improvement in how Americans perceive the president.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 3,032 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 2-4, 2010, as part of Gallup 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 ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones and cellular phones.

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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