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Obama's September Approval Rating Remains at Term-Low 41%

Obama's September Approval Rating Remains at Term-Low 41%

by Frank Newport and Clancy Bertane

PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama's job approval rating averaged 41% in September, tied with August for the lowest monthly approval average of his administration.

Obama Job Approval, Monthly Averages, 2009-2011

Obama began his term with average approval ratings of 66% in January 2009 and 64% in February 2009. His ratings gradually drifted downward from that point, with a slight uptick in January of this year and again in May, after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Too Early to Predict Re-Election Chances Based on Approval Ratings

Thirteen months from now, Americans will vote on whether to give Obama a second term in office. While Obama's September job approval average may not appear to bode well for him, history shows that approval ratings at this juncture are not strongly predictive of an incumbent president's re-election chances. Jimmy Carter in 1979 had lower monthly average approval ratings in September of the year before his election than Obama has now. Carter went on to lose his re-election bid. George H.W. Bush's approval rating in September of 1991 was 68%, second only to Dwight Eisenhower's 71% in September 1955. Bush went on to lose the 1992 election to Bill Clinton.

Incumbent Presidents' Job Approval Averages in September Before Election Year

A 72-Point Gap in Obama's Approval Between Liberal Dems and Conservative Republicans

President Obama's approval ratings predictably differ by party identification and ideology, ranging from a 79% approval rating among liberal Democrats to a 7% rating among conservative Republicans.

Obama Job Approval Among Political Subgroups, September 2011

His current ratings among all these groups are lower now than earlier in his presidency, but he has lost proportionately more support among Republicans and less among Democrats.

As a result, the approval spread among these political groups has widened during Obama's term. The accompanying chart displays these groups' average yearly approval ratings of Obama, indexed to his national average for each year. Index values above 100 indicate that the group in question gave Obama a higher rating than the national average for that year; values below 100 show that the group gave him a lower rating than the national average for that year.

Obama's indexed ratings among liberal, moderate, and conservative Democrats are proportionately higher now than in 2009, meaning these groups' ratings of the president have stayed relatively high compared with other groups over time.

Moderate and conservative Republicans' indexed ratings of Obama are lower now than in 2009, meaning his ratings among these groups have declined disproportionately compared with other groups. The spread in Obama's ratings between Democrats and Republicans has thus expanded over time; therefore, political polarization has increased over the course of Obama's term so far.

Barack Obama’s Yearly Job Approval Average Among Party and Ideological Groups, Indexed to 100 as the National Average for Each Year

Blacks Give Obama His Highest Ratings; Whites, His Lowest

Obama's approval ratings vary widely across demographic groups, reflecting the general structure of partisanship in the U.S. population today. Blacks, nonwhites, those with postgraduate educations, Hispanics, young and unmarried Americans, and those living in the East were among the most approving of Obama in September.

Obama's approval ratings are below average among whites, married Americans, those aged 65 and older, and Southerners.

Obama Job Approval Among Demographic and Regional Subgroups, September 2011

Blacks' indexed approval ratings of Obama have risen substantially over the last 2 ½ years, mainly because they have stayed relatively constant in the 80% range while other groups' ratings have declined. Americans with postgraduate education and nonwhites also are proportionately more positive about Obama now than in 2009.

On the other hand, Obama has lost the most ground on a relative basis among Americans making at least $7,500 a month, Hispanics, and those with a high school education or less.

Barack Obama’s Yearly Job Approval Average Among Demographic and Regional Groups, Indexed to 100 as the National Average for Each Year


President Obama's monthly job approval rating remains at 41% in September, tied for the lowest monthly average of his administration. His job rating will become an increasingly important predictor of his re-election chances as each month goes by, although history shows that candidates' ratings in September of the year before an election can still change significantly in the 13 months leading up to that election. At this point Obama's ratings are well below the 48% to 50% approval threshold that a president generally needs to be re-elected.

Americans' views of Obama have become somewhat more polarized over the course of his administration to date. Democrats' ratings are now higher relative to other groups than they were in 2009, while Republicans' ratings are lower compared with other groups. Obama's support among blacks and those with postgraduate education remains high compared with the national average, while his support among high-income Americans and Hispanics has weakened.

Explore President Obama's approval ratings in depth and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking from January 2009 through September 2011 with monthly random samples of approximately 15,000 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on a typical monthly sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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