Why Obama’s Bad Reputation Still Counts

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Earlier this month a poll from Quinnipiac University placed President Barack Obama as the worst president since World War II. Now, a CNN/ORC International Poll is saying that if 2012 elections were to be re-held today, respondents would elect Mitt Romney over President Obama this time around. Obama took 44 percent of the vote, Romney 53 percent, and 3 percent would vote for neither. This is an unexciting statistic for a few reasons.

For one, it’s hardly news. Quinnipiac University posed a very similar question and saw comparable results. It asked if Romney would have made a better president, and saw 45 percent saying yes, with 38 percent saying the nation would have fared worse under his leadership. While, yes, that does sting, it’s not surprising that people see previous political options through rose tinted glasses while Obama — who has seen over five years worth of mud, blood, and politics — isn’t as attractive an option any more. People don’t like him, that’s not new, and it’s not even particularly unusual for a president at this juncture of his presidency, as Gallup’s backlog of presidential polls shows below in a comparison of 22nd quarter approval averages.


So why are Obama’s approval averages still worthy of comment? They haven’t seen any major slumps recently, and are mostly holding at the same low levels. The answer lies in two places. The first has to do with how his reputation is affecting the midterms, which will in turn influence the last year and some of his presidency. The second has to do with the 2016 presidential election.

First things first; President Obama’s poor opinion polls are quite likely to have hurt the chances of his party in this congressional election, at least when it comes to the Senate. The Washington Post has a combined examiniation of ABC News and Gallup polls showing a connection between the president’s job approval and the number of House seats lost by the appropriate party, a connection theorized to extend also to the Senate. As Obama himself pointed out, Democrats don’t tend to do very well in the midterms.

It’s something about midterms. I don’t know what it is about us. We get a little sleepy, we get a little distracted. We don’t turn out to vote. We don’t fund campaigns as passionately,” said Obama back in March. But he forgot one thing — at least for this year, they’ve also had a presidential deadweight tied to their Democratic campaigns, and things aren’t looking good for Democrats in the Senate. The Washington Post and FiveThirtyEight both give the edge to Republicans in this election, and though The WP has fluctuated day to day, it sits at 84 percent today in favor of the GOP taking the Senate majority.

The second reason that Obama’s approval ratings are important has to do not with the Congressional election — but looking further ahead at 2016. Hillary Clinton so far has maintained a fairly strong lead on Republican candidates, but the question remains: will Obama’s unpopularity harm Democrats beyond just the Senate? Looking at that same poll that showed Romney winning over Obama in a rematch, and judging based on a collection of recent polls, the answer is likely no. The CNN/ORC International Poll also showed that should Romney chose to run in 2016, in a head-to-head against Clinton he’d be easily beaten, 55 percent to 42 percent — even allowing for the +/- 3.0 sampling error (with the overall polls sampling error average at +/- 8.5).

Against other GOP candidates, Clinton might face more of a struggle, but at least when considered in a face-off with Romney, people might take Romney over Obama, but they haven’t transferred that to the Democratic party candidates overall, clearly. But beyond being an interesting comparison between the three, that information likely holds little relevance. Some, including Clinton, are hesitant to confirm their candidacy, but Romney isn’t one of them. He’s made it clear he has no plans to run — though some in the conservative camp are still hopeful that he may change his tune. There’s even a group looking to “draft” him back, as it were, as shown in the Conservative Tribune.

On the other hand, the poll didn’t only have good news for Clinton — it showed her slipping on some of the “personal characteristic” questions, with Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Governor Rick Perry (R-Tex.) showing improved strength as opposition. Still, some 63 percent considered Clinton a strong and decisive leader, 50 percent said she agrees on issues they care about, and on effective governing, caring, and values, she broke 50 percent every time — the same of which cannot be said for Obama.

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