Monday, January 30, 2006

Bush Approval on Eve of SOTU

Second term approval ratings based on the Gallup Poll. The vertical line marks the start of the 60th month in office, which is the approximate date of the State of the Union address, but not the exact date for each president. Latest Bush data through polling completed 1/22/06.

President Bush goes into his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday with his popular approval at 42-43%, the second lowest for a two term president at this point in his tenure. While the President's approval rating has significantly increased since early November, it has remained in the 42-43% range since mid-December. State of the Union addresses have sometimes given presidents a boost in the polls, but not always. Of two term post-war presidents giving their sixth address to Congress, only Clinton and Nixon received a positive bounce (and Nixon's was quite small). Truman's, Eisenhower's and Reagan's sixth State of the Union speeches produced no noticeable change in approval at all. President Bush would benefit from an effective speech on Tuesday to rally his Republican supporters in Congress and to overcome the recent inertia in his public standing with voters. If he achieves this, he will be winning against the historical average.

Among second term presidents, President Bush's approval rating, though improved, ranks above only Nixon and slightly behind Truman. For the start of their sixth year in late January, approval for these six presidents has been:

Truman, 45%, 1/13/50
Eisenhower, 58%, 1/29/58
Nixon, 26%, 1/21/74
Reagan, 64%, 1/13/86
Clinton, 62%, 1/21/98
Bush, 43%, 1/22/06

President Bush's approval numbers in the perspective of his entire term look like this:

Approval of President Bush, 2001-2006. This is based on all public polls reported at The blue line is an estimate of the trend in approval, the gray dots are the individual poll results, which randomly scatter around this trend.

The President's support has suffered throughout his term from the unsustainable high following the attacks on September 11. As approval inevitably declined from that point, the President received boosts at the start of the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam Hussein. These surges, however, have been short lived, with the downward trend soon reappearing. The exception to this downward movement was the 2004 election campaign, a period in which the President's approval rose, peaking shortly after the 2004 general election. The year 2005 returned to the previous pattern of declining support, however, until the reversal begun in early November. That increase stabilized in mid-December and has remained constant at 42-43% since then.

The 2005-06 trends can be seen in greater detail below.

While some individual polls have registered relatively high approval ratings, these have not been sustained in the same polls, which in January have shown results consistent with the range of other polls and an overall approval estimate of 42.5% as of January 26 polling.

Presidents can try to set the agenda with the State of the Union. In 2005, President Bush did that by announcing his aim to change the Social Security program. After devoting a great deal of White House effort to that goal, public and Congressional approval failed to come around to the President's position. That high visibility domestic initiative was what the President spent his "political capital" on in 2005, without any return on the investment. The 2006 State of the Union gives him a new chance to set out a domestic agenda that will win the support of both the public and the Congress.

Data: The full Gallup Poll series of presidential approval is freely available at the Roper Center website here. Current polls are available at the here.