Obama's Unemployment Problem

For the first time, according to Gallup's latest tracking poll, less than fifty percent of Americans approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as President. That's down from 60% in July. As Greg Sargent says, this just confirms what Quinnipiac and Fox polls showed earlier in the week. And Obama's approval ratings have been hovering just over 50% for a while now. While there is nothing magic about the 50% threshold, it is a sign that the bloom is off Obama's political rose just ten months into his presidency.

Obama's administration isn't necessarily in trouble. More people still approve of the job he is doing than disapprove. As Gallup notes, every President since WWII except Kennedy had their approval drop below 50% at some point, and each saw their approval rating recover the first time it happened. And although Obama's approval ratings have dropped quickly compared to other post-war Presidents, both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton saw their approval ratings drop below 50% in their first ten months and went on to win second terms in office.

Like Obama, both Reagan and Clinton took office when the unemployment rate was high and worsening. As John Judis recently argued, presidential approval ratings tend to reflect the unemployment rate. Sure enough, as Nate Silver shows, Obama's overall approval rating closely follows how much people approve of the way he has been handling the economy. When Obama took office, of course, the jobless rate was already 8.5%—higher than when Reagan or Clinton began their presidencies—and has since risen to more than 10%, the highest it has been since 1983.

Although more people still hold the Republicans than the Democrats responsible for the state of the economy, that's beginning to change. Not surprisingly, Republicans are focusing less on terrorism and social issues, and talking more about the state of the economy—and they are increasingly optimistic about their prospects in next year's midterm elections. If Obama is to avoid a major defeat next year, he's going to have to do something to stimulate job growth. Obama may largely not be to blame for the economic problems we face, but his fortunes—and the fortunes of the Democratic Party—hinge on his ability to do something about them.

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