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Improving National Outlook Key to Obama Victory in 2012

Improving National Outlook Key to Obama Victory in 2012

U.S. satisfaction, economic confidence, job approval up in recent months

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going and approval of the job Barack Obama is doing are below historical averages, and their economic outlook continues to be more negative than positive. Still, all of these measures are much improved from a year ago, helping the president narrowly win re-election. Also, more Americans identify as Democrats or lean Democratic than did so a year ago.

Changes in Key Indicators, November 2011 to November 2012

All of these factors played a part in Obama's winning a second term as president, even though Americans are still in a somewhat negative mood in an absolute sense.

The 33% of Americans satisfied is below the historical average 38% and is the lowest it has been when an incumbent successfully won re-election. It was lower in late 1979 and 1992 prior to the defeats of Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, respectively, but was significantly higher when Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush won re-election.

Percentage Satisfied With Direction of the U.S.

Gallup does not have as long a track record of measuring economic confidence in re-election years, though incumbents have typically won when it was in positive territory. Americans were quite negative about the economy when George H.W. Bush unsuccessfully sought re-election.

Economic Confidence Index, Presidential Re-Election Years

Obama's final pre-election approval rating of 52% among all adults is actually quite good for an incumbent seeking re-election. The presidents who were defeated for a second term -- Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush -- were both in the mid-30% range.

Presidential Approval Ratings, Presidential Re-Election Years

Though Obama's approval rating was rather robust, he did not enjoy as easy a victory as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, or Bill Clinton, all of whom also had approval ratings above 50%. Part of that may be because Obama's approval rating among likely voters was a bit lower, at 49%. Obama's margin of victory in the 2012 election was similar to George W. Bush's in 2004. Bush had a 48% approval rating among all adults but a slightly higher 51% among likely voters that year.

Party Polarization Drives Improvement, but Keeps Measures Lower

Perhaps the main reasons these key measures have improved so much is because Democrats have come to view national conditions much more positively, understandable given that a Democratic president is seeking another four-year term in office. But Republicans' ratings on the same measures did not show nearly the same improvement, if any, and thus, that helped keep most of the measures below average historically.

Specifically, in Gallup's final pre-election tracking poll, 92% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans approved of the job Obama is doing. That 86-point gap is the highest Gallup has measured for any president. But the party gaps in approval of George W. Bush also exceeded 80 points in the final months before Election Day 2004.

Gallup has also documented the rise in Democratic confidence in the economy this year, and the growing gap in how Republicans and Democrats view economic conditions.

And while Democrats have shown markedly more satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States compared with 12 months ago -- when it was near a record low-- Republicans' views have not changed at all.

Democrats' much more positive outlook on national conditions is especially noteworthy, given that more Americans now identify as Democrats or lean Democratic than did so a year ago.


Americans are clearly more upbeat about U.S. national conditions now than they were a year ago, and even four years ago when Obama took office. However, on an absolute basis many of these measures remain low, likely because Americans' views of the way things are going in the United States are shaped so much by their partisan points of view.

But it is the improvement, rather than the overall level of satisfaction or economic confidence, that seems to have persuaded enough Americans that President Obama should have another term in office.

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Survey Methods

Results Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 1-4, 2012, on the Gallup Daily election tracking survey, with a random sample of 3,117 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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 landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 375 cell phone respondents and 375 landline respondents per 750 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones 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, population density, 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 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in the U.S. 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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