Numbers to Watch in 2010: Presidential Approval

This post was written by Glen Bolger and Jim Hobart

This is the first in a series of posts examining key polling data and other numbers to watch as we move towards Election Day.

Over the course of the past year, much attention was given to the decline in President Obama’s approval rating from its highs in the mid 60s to its current level of around 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}. In 2010, barring an unforeseen significant event, it is unlikely that Obama will once again experience such a dramatic decrease (or increase) in his approval rating. (Obama’s base is most likely too loyal to allow his approval rating to drift below 45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, while GOPers and many Inds are too disgusted with the actions of his administration to allow his approval numbers to surge back into the high 50s.) However, in the context of the midterm elections, even small fluctuations in the President’s approval numbers have the potential to be meaningful, as they may serve as a predictor of GOP gains in 2010.

POS, with the help of data from the Gallup Organization and information from our friends at National Journal and The Cook Political Report, took a look at how presidential approval effected mid-term House losses for the President’s party in every mid-term election since 1962. The results were staggering. If the President’s approval rating was 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} or higher, the President’s party picked up an average of 1 seat. If the approval rating was between 50 and 59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, the average loss was 12 seats. Finally, if the President’s approval rating was below 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, the average loss was 41 seats (one seat more than the 40 seats GOPers need to win back control of the House).


This is not to say that if Obama’s approval rating is 48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in late October, Republicans should expect to take back the House. However, in the words of Gallup’s Lydia Saad, “President Obama has been walking the public opinion tightrope represented by the 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} job approval line since about mid-November, with his rating wavering between 47 approval and 53 approval.” If this tightrope walk continues, it will make for a lot (more) nervous nights for vulnerable incumbent Dems.

Public Opinion Strategies