For years, President Barack Obama’s personal favorability ratings served as a political firewall that sustained him through an economic recession, grueling fights with congressional Republicans and the grind of a re-election campaign.
But after a rough start to Obama’s second term, Americans increasingly view the president unfavorably. And perhaps most concerning for the White House: An Associated Press analysis of public polling shows it has become more difficult over time for Obama to fully rebound from dents in his favorability ratings.
“It’s a slow, cumulative effect,” Republican pollster David Winston said, adding that personal favorability “is a much harder number to move if it starts to go south.”
The public’s increasingly negative view of Obama may be less of a concern for his future given that he is barred from running for re-election. But the president still needs a strong connection with the public to rally Americans around his policy proposals and, in turn, to show Congress he remains politically relevant at a time when lame-duck status is lurking.
The president’s advisers need only look at Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, to see the impact of a crumbling relationship with the public. Positive impressions of the Republican trailed off in the beginning of 2005 amid public frustration with the Iraq war and the government’s flawed response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush’s favorability rating never recovered, and he struggled to fulfill significant policy goals throughout the rest of his presidency.
A series of recent polls show Obama’s personal favorability now leaning negative, including an NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll released last week that found positive views of Obama at the lowest point of his presidency and down 6 points from earlier in October. The drop follows the 16-day government shutdown, the cascade of problems during his health care law’s rollout and another flood of revelations about U.S. government spying.
Throughout Obama’s presidency, his job approval and personal favorability ratings have generally risen and fallen in tandem. But his favorability numbers, which often reflect the public’s gut-level reaction to a politician, generally remained the more positive of the two measures.