PRINCETON, NJ -- President Barack Obama's job approval rating thus far in 2013 has averaged 24 percentage points higher than Americans' satisfaction with the direction in which the country is going. This gap is typical for the Obama presidency, but represents a much greater presidential job approval premium than most other presidents since Ronald Reagan have enjoyed.
More specifically, so far this year, an average of 50% of Americans have approved of the job Obama is doing as president. At the same time, an average of 26% have been satisfied with the direction of the country. Similarly, since the start of his presidency in 2009, Obama's average job approval rating has been running 26 points higher than Americans' average level of satisfaction with the nation, and has ranged from 22 to 30 points higher each year.
By contrast, the average gap in approval vs. satisfaction for George W. Bush across the eight years of his presidency was 12 points. For Bill Clinton and for Ronald Reagan, it was 10 points. The only other president who consistently logged much higher job approval ratings than the prevailing level of U.S. satisfaction was George H.W. Bush during his one-term presidency from 1989-1993. However, even his average 21-point job approval premium falls short of Obama's.
Obama Much Better Rated Than Congress
Obama is also faring better than Congress in the court of public opinion, as his overall job approval rating averages 35 points higher in 2013 -- 50% vs. 15% -- and 30 points higher since 2009.
Obama's yawning advantage over Congress in popularity compares favorably with George W. Bush's 12-point lead between 2001 and 2008, an 18-point lead for Clinton from 1993 to 2000, and a 13-point lead for Reagan between 1981 and 1988 (with no congressional ratings in 1984 and 1985). In this case, however, George H.W. Bush's lead over Congress in job approval -- 39 points -- exceeds Obama's, a finding that can partly be attributed to Bush's surge in popularity around the time of the 1991 Gulf War.
Putting both comparisons together underscores the degree to which Obama is performing above par relative to Americans' satisfaction with the direction of the country, while, since 2012, Congress has actually performed below par.
The only other times Gallup found the president's job approval rating running 20 points or more above U.S. satisfaction, and congressional approval running significantly below it, were in 1990 and 1991. Unlike today, however, in those years, satisfaction with the country was in the 40s and George H.W. Bush's approval rating averaged 60% or better, while congressional approval lagged, possibly stemming from the "Keating Five" and House banking scandals.
President Obama's job approval rating has been sagging of late, consistently registering below 50% in Gallup Daily tracking in June. Nevertheless, it is well above Americans' overall satisfaction with the direction of the country, now in the mid-20s, and remains far ahead of Congress' job rating. All of this suggests Obama does not receive the full brunt of Americans' blame for the nation's economy and other factors that may be contributing to their general dissatisfaction with the country's direction. Obama's "likability" could play a role, in that his favorable rating is averaging about five points higher than his approval rating, potentially lifting it. However, at 55%, his current favorable rating is not unusually high for recent sitting presidents. Perhaps more important may be Obama's ability to appear above the fray of the intense partisan debates that have defined Washington in recent years and that appear to be tarnishing the image of a politically divided Congress.