For Obama, The Speed Of Change Also Brings The Speed Of Falling Approval

Dennis Brack/Newscom

With the latest Gallup tracking polls showing that President Obama’s approval rating among Americans is now right at 50%, it’s very clear that the honeymoon period — when his ratings were in the high 60’s, and he seemed untouchable — is now over. So what caused him to go down as quickly as he has?

The fact is, all presidents since World War II have eventually gone below 50% approval in Gallup, as Obama seems about to do any day now, with the exception of John F. Kennedy — whose presidency was tragically cut short before this might have happened at a future date. The record for the longest 50-plus streak goes to Dwight Eisenhower, at 63 months. (People liked Ike for a long time — but even that couldn’t last forever.)

With Obama, however, his decline has happened a bit sooner than it did for others — and there could be a good explanation why.Obama’s eight-month positive streak is only longer than Gerald Ford, at three months, and Bill Clinton’s four months. With Ford, the Nixon pardon destroyed any good will he had coming into office after Watergate, and Clinton was tripped up by a series of botched appointments, the controversy over gays in the military, and eventually his high-profile haircut on an airport tarmac.

In his analysis, Gallup managing editor Jeffrey M. Jones said that the health care debate and concerns over government spending have weakened Obama. I asked Jones whether this may be true, but as a component of a larger explanation: That Obama is pursuing vast policy changes at a fast-forward pace — the stimulus, health care, foreign policy, etc. — and the sheer speed of his policies is causing the polls to react in the same manner.

Jones agreed that this is a fair explanation: “I think Obama has admitted it himself, that if he basically just came in and was a caretaker his approval rating would still be higher. But he’s tried to do a lot of stuff.”

Obama can take some heart in this, though: Ronald Reagan’s streak only lasted ten months, which was also way below average.