Despite the mass media splash about President Obama’s approval ratings at the end of the first 100 days in office, President Jimmy Carter shared equally high ratings at the end of that time period.
Carter’s average approval rating from January 1977 to January 1981 was 45.5 percent, the lowest for all modern presidents since the end of World War II.
Carter’s presidency was badly damaged by the OPEC oil embargo, double-digit interest rates and the 444-day U.S. embassy hostage crisis in Iran. He was easily beaten after one term by Republican challenger Ronald Reagan in the November 1980 presidential election
Moreover, comparisons with approval ratings for President George W. Bush indicate Obama’s strongly partisan approval ratings pose problems in the future, especially if the war in Afghanistan expands and the economic downturn continues.
Obama’s 63 percent approval rating at the end of the administration’s first 100 days in office is identical to Carter’s 63 percent in 1977, according to the Pew Research Center.
Carter’s presidency clearly shows that initially high approval ratings for Democratic presidents do not necessarily predict success.
While much is made of President Bush’s low approval ratings of 23 percent, mainstream media commentators rarely note President Carter’s ratings fell to a low of 28 percent in the period of June 29 to July 2, 1979.
The blog LittleGreenFootballs.com has pointed out another comparison between Obama and Carter. The Georgia governor also ran on a message of “change” in 1976, winning on a wave of emotion against the Republican Party after President Ford’s decision to pardon President Nixon from any criminal offenses that may have been related to the Watergate affair.
Pew Research also reported Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades, despite the administration’s repeated assertions of bi-partisanship.
Obama’s 61-point partisan gap comes from relatively high support among Democrats (88 percent job approval rating) and exceptionally low ratings from Republicans (27 percent).
The next most partisan divide at the end of the first 100 days in office was registered by President George W. Bush, with a 51-point partisan divide caused by the sharp difference in strong approval expressed by Republicans (87 percent) and much lower approval from Democrats (36 percent).
Interestingly, President Bush at the end of the first 100 days in office had an 11 percent higher rating from voters of the competing party than Obama enjoys this year.
Bush’s average approval ratings remained strong throughout his first term (62.2 percent), dropping only in his second term (36.5 percent).
A lesson from Bush that Obama should study is that sharp partisan differences can over time lead to decreasing overall approval rates.
President Bush was dogged in his second term by the continuing war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as an economy that began declining in 2007, after the mortgage bubble burst.
Obama may well expand the war in Afghanistan, and the economic recession that began officially last December appears resistant to any quick recovery, despite administration’s determination to continue bailouts, to expand the involvement of government in the management of the economy and to fund an unprecedented growth in the social welfare state with trillions of dollars in federal budget deficits.