PRINCETON, NJ -- Aided by a mini-rally as the Boston police tracked down the two Boston marathon bombing suspects, President Barack Obama's job approval averaged 50% last week, the first time it has been at that level since late February, prior to the federal budget sequester.
The nation's attention turned to terrorism when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon. President Obama sought to comfort Americans shaken by the attack, and to assure the nation that the perpetrators would be identified and brought to justice. Authorities identified the suspected bombers late Thursday, and by Friday night, one had been killed in a confrontation with the police and the other captured after a day-long search.
Obama's approval rating did not rise in the immediate wake of the attacks. In April 15-17 Gallup Daily tracking interviewing, which coincided with the initial days after the bombings occurred, Obama's job approval rating averaged 49%. By the end of the week when the story shifted to the hunt for, and ultimate capture of, the terror suspects, his approval rating did pick up. In Gallup's three-day average for April 19-21, Thursday through Saturday interviewing, his approval rating was above 50% each night and he averaged 53% approval across the three nights.
Obama's latest Gallup Daily tracking average, based on April 20-22 interviewing, shows his three-day approval rating back down to 50%, suggesting the rally may be short-lived.
Obama Averages 49.7% in Most Recent Quarter in Office
The Boston manhunt helped Obama regain positive momentum lost around the time of the federal budget sequester. When his second term, and 17th quarter in office, began on Jan. 20, his three-day average job approval rating was 50%. His approval rating stayed at or above 50% throughout the remainder of January and February. Then on March 1, the day the sequester went into effect, his approval rating dropped below 50% and generally stayed there until last week, aside from a few scattered 50% readings.
Friday marked the end of Obama's 17th quarter in office, and during that time he averaged 49.7% job approval. That is down from 51.9% during his 16th quarter in office, and represents the first decline in his quarterly approval average since it bottomed out at 41% during his 11th quarter as president, from July-October 2011. Still, his most recent quarterly average is one of his best since his first year in office.
Obama's 17th Quarter Lowest Among Two-Term Elected Presidents
Obama is only the sixth president elected to both a first and second term since World War II. Of these presidents, Obama's 17th quarter approval average ranks as the lowest, though it is not appreciably worse than George W. Bush's 50.4% average at the same stage of his presidency.
Dwight Eisenhower had the highest 17th quarter average of two-term elected presidents, at 69%. Notably, each successive two-term president has had a lower 17th quarter average than his predecessor.
For these six twice-elected presidents, their 17th quarter occurred during the first three months of their second term in office. Two other post-World War II presidents -- Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman -- were not elected to a first term but did win election in their own right and served a 17th quarter in office at a different stage of their presidency.
Johnson's 17th quarter came in October 1967-January 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War and at about the time he was deciding whether to seek a second elected term as president. Johnson ultimately decided against doing so, with his flagging popularity likely a factor. His 44.3% 17th quarter average is the lowest of all post-World War II presidents.
Truman ascended to the presidency in April 1945 after Franklin Roosevelt died in the initial months of his fourth term in office. Truman's 17th quarter in office dated from April-June 1949, a few months after he was elected in his own right in 1948. Truman averaged 54.0% approval during his 17th quarter in office.
Obama's Quarterly and Term Averages to Date Are Below Average
From a broader historical perspective, Obama's 49.7% 17th quarter average is below average, ranking in the 40th percentile of all presidential quarters for which Gallup has data since 1945. The historical average approval rating across all presidents since that time is 54%. Obama has averaged 49.2% approval during his entire term in office to date.
As he begins his 18th quarter in office, Obama will hope to buck the historical trend whereby presidents typically see a drop in their approval rating from their 17th to 18th quarter in office. This occurred for all of the seven other post-World War II presidents serving an 18th quarter except Ronald Reagan.
In many respects, Obama's second term in office is starting off like George W. Bush's. Both won re-election despite approval ratings hovering near 50%. That partly reflects the era in which each has governed, with presidential approval ratings more polarized than ever among Republicans and Democrats. That may put a bit of a cap on how high a president's approval rating can go, if the opposing party's supporters are very unlikely to approve of the president almost regardless of what he does.
In any case, Obama will hope to have a stronger second term than Bush, whose approval rating dropped below 50% during his 18th quarter in office and never went back above it as the war with Iraq dragged on and Bush suffered a series of missteps including the response to Hurricane Katrina and his widely criticized nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Before his term was out, the nation would see record-high gas prices and the worst financial recession since the Great Depression.
Obama may be in a seemingly more fortunate situation with the worst of the economic collapse seemingly past, the Iraq war over, and the war in Afghanistan winding down. But he still faces significant challenges in trying to address the federal budget deficit and more fully implementing the healthcare reforms he helped pass in 2010.
Explore President Obama's approval ratings in depth and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 20-Apr. 19, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 44,392 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 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 of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone 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 to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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 www.gallup.com.