I took a few minutes to assemble some data on presidential approval ratings at the 10-month mark, the current President having crossed that threshold about two weeks ago. I was immediately struck by the similarities between Obama and Reagan at the equivalent point in their first terms:*
The similarity is remarkable. Where did Reagan go from here? Well, his low ratings persisted throughout 1982 and accordingly the GOP results in the midterm Congressional elections were mediocre. The majority Democrats added 27 additional seats to their House delegation while in the Senate, the Democrats remained in the minority but picked up one additional seat, leaving them at 46 (they would make additional gains in 1984 before taking the Senate back in 1986). How then did Reagan end up virtually canonized by 1988 after winning a coronation-style re-election in 1984? Well, the simple answer is that his approval ratings took a dramatic swing upward in 1983. Hmm…
Coincidental correlation? Maybe. But the link between economic conditions and presidential approval is well-established in political science literature.*** While I recognize – and in fact base my entire Presidency course around – the fact that the President does not have a magic button on his desk labeled FIX ECONOMY, these data should suggest that achieving some tangible improvement in general economic conditions should be Obama's first and only goal at the moment. For some strange reason voters don't seem to worry about the deficit as much when they have jobs.
* Approval ratings are now available daily, whereas in 1981 data were collected monthly. I combined the data by noting the date of each Reagan approval rating and choosing the corresponding Obama rating from that date.
** Unemployment data is the monthly rate calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
***see Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson 2000 or Edwards, Mitchell and Welch 1995 to name just two.