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What's Behind Obama's Downward Spiral in His Job Approval Rating?
Eight reasons why Obama's job approval rating is in the tank
Since President Obama began his second term, his job approval rating has been constantly dropping. Beginning 2013, the first year of his second term, with a 52 percent approval rating, he has seen it drop to 41 percent, a nine-point drop in one year, according to Gallup’s three-day rolling averages for 2013.
The strange thing about the drop is that strong economic indicators do not seem to raise Obama’s approval rating. “The stock market has hit skyscraping highs, the unemployment rate has dipped to a five-year low, and any number of economic statistics—new-car sales, home prices, consumer spending—point to a perked-up economy that is steadily growing,” wrote Mark Z. Barabak of Tribune Newspapers and published in the Daily Press, a Newport News, Virginia, newspaper. “But one thing that has changed little is President Barack Obama’ job approval rating.” He continued: “One of the most reliable barometers of political wellbeing is the state of the economy. Good times usually bring good tidings… But in the case of Obama… there has been a clear disconnect between economic indicators and political popularity.” It is, indeed, odd—even surprising—that his approval rating is not more than 50 percent.
The relevant question, therefore, is, why? Why is his rating constantly sinking? What are the reasons that the economic “good news” has not caused an uptick in his job approval rating? This question may not be fully answerable because what was normal in the past is not normal in the present—and perhaps not normal in the future—and yet an attempt must be made to answer the question. Pundits and politicians, therefore, have hypothesized. Here are a few.
Five Reasons Obama’s Approval Rating Is Declining
In June of last year, an Internet article, written by someone who listed his name as Matt, appeared on a website called PruneJuiceMedia.com, entitled Five Reasons Why I Believe Obama’s Approval Ratings Are down.
The first is: “People are losing overall trust in his Administration.” The operative word he used here is “overall.” “This doesn’t mean they don’t think he can do the job,” he said. “It just doesn’t feel nearly as transparent as it should.”
The second: “Too many “scandals” too fast.” Here, he has reference to revelations that the IRS had targeted conservative applicants for tax-exempt status; that the Associated Press and James Rosen, Fox News Washington correspondent, were monitored for possible leaks of classified information; and that the National Security Agency was sweeping up telephone and Internet records—all in the spring of 2013.
The third: “Obama’s NSA surveillance revelation gave an immediate flashback to the days of George W. Bush and his warrant-less wiretapping program.”
The Fourth: “Obama flip-flopped or outright stalled on some major issues.” Examples, he said, are, “not closing a prison at Guantanamo Bay, not going after banks in the financial crisis, and not pursuing a public option in the health-care debate.
The fifth: “Approval ratings rise and fall with the news cycle.” Matt is right. People do, indeed, change their minds about the president in relation to the news of the day. Gallup’s three-day rolling averages on Obama’s approval rating bear that out. According to a graph, using Gallup as its source, the Daily Press shows the “notable events” that moved the needle up or down for the president from 2009 to 2014. Accordingly, on the date of his 2009 inauguration, his approval rating was at 67 percent. In 2010, when he signed the Affordable Care Act, his rating dipped to 49 percent. In 2011, when Osama Bin Laden was killed, it rose to 51 percent. When Congress approved a deal to raise the debt ceiling and Standard and Poor downgraded the government’s credit rating, it plunged to 40 percent. After the Newtown shooting, his rating surged to 57 percent. In 2012, when he was elected to his second term, his rating was up to 51 percent. In 2013, after the House of Representatives approved a bill that averted the so-called fiscal cliff, his rating climbed to 53 percent. When the Sequester went in effect, it dropped to 49 percent. During the partial government shutdown, it plunged to 42 percent.
Health care Law Roll out
In addition to Matt’s five reasons why Obama’s approval ratings are declining is the botched healthcare rollout. On October 1, the federal health insurance exchange websites opened, giving Americans access to a new health insurance marketplace. “However, the website had major technical problems,” Lydia Saad, a Gallup Poll writer said, “and many Americans lost their health insurance because it didn’t comply with the law.” The GOP pounced on this and accused Obama of intentionally misleading the public when he constantly said on the campaign trail: “If you like your plan, “you can keep it.” That charge, until this day, still echoes throughout the country. As a result of the botched roll out, Obama’s approval rating went into free fall. After the website was fixed or, at least, nearly fixed, and the Obama administration announced “more than three million people have now signed up for private insurance through the federal and state exchanges,” his approval rating is still at 42 percent, according a Gallup poll.
The Overall Economy
Another reason for Obama’s sinking job approval rating is the overall economy. This is not to say that the economy is not doing better. It is. The problem is that many struggling Americans have not felt the improvements in the economy. “Americans have not benefited from the lumbering recovery,” Barabak continued. “Significantly, millions who want to work still can’t find jobs.”
GOP’s Communication Strategy
The final reason for Obama’s sinking rating is the GOP’s communication technique. Although pundits, politicians, and pollsters are not addressing the issue of communication relative to Obama’s approval rating, if social psychology is to be taken seriously, it is evident that the GOP’s communication technique is helping to drag it down.
In the textbook Virginia University of Lynchburg uses for its introduction to psychology course (Psychology, seventh edition, copyright 2000), Lester A. Lefton makes four astonishing and enlightening statements about communication that changes attitudes, which are certainly applicable to the GOP: 1. “Communication that arouses fear is effective in motivating attitude change, especially when they focus on health issues, and the communicator does not overdo the fear appeal.” 2. “Research is beginning to show that negative information tends to influence people more strongly than positive information.” 3. “Researchers have found that if people hear a persuasive message often enough, they begin to believe it, regardless of its validity.” 4. “One of the most common avenues for attempts at attitude change is via the mass media, especially television… Nevertheless, face-to-face communication often has more impact…”
Without a doubt, Republicans—politicians and pundits—in their communication, use fear tactics spin positives into negatives, and uses the broken-record technique.
Take, for example, the Affordable Care Act. From the time it was signed into law, the GOP began to use fear tactics, to spin positives into negatives, and to use the broken-record technique in communication. In 2009, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin coined the term “death panel” to characterize a part of the ACA that would create a group of government officials to decide who receives health care, according Maggie Spini on dukechronicle.com. Like a broken record, the term has been heard over and over on television news. Peter Ubel and Brendan Nyhan, professors of Dartmouth College and Jason Reifler of Georgia State University researched how Americans continue to think about the death panel comment, according to Spini. They found, in their project, “some Palin supporters’ beliefs in the death panel were actually strengthened, when they were presented with corrections of “the myth.”
Michele Bachmann’s favorite fear tactic is: “Let’s repeal this failure (the AFC) before it literally kills women, kills children, and kills senior citizens.” That statement is sounded over and over in the media. She, also, spins the truth into untruths or half-truths. When discussing the repeal of the AFC on the House floor, before the partial government shutdown, she used an isolated event in Minnesota, involving the unauthorized release of some personal information to about 1,500 insurance agents by way of email to an employee of the agency that runs the Obama insurance exchange in the state, to claim that the health-care website was unsafe.” Although backers of the law declared that the system has undergone extensive testing and is secure, conservative pundits and politicians continued to declare the system is not safe.
A Koch-affiliated group, Generation Opportunity, “recently released” a “creepy video,” featuring a person wearing an Uncle Sam outfit and interfering with young people's’ health care decision,” according to thinkprogress.org and, also, reported on MSNBC’s Political Nation. The video was designed to frighten young people and keep them from signing up for health insurance under the ACA.
Although polls do not show that using fear tactics, spinning positives into negatives, and using the broken-record technique to drive their message, if social-psychology research is valid (and it is), one must conclude that the communication technique employed by the GOP helps to drive the president’s poll numbers.
The eight reasons Obama’s approval rating has constantly declined are valid but probably not in and of themselves. Concluding that social-science research findings are valid, one must hypothesize that his declining approval rating may have more to do with communication about events and situations than about the events and situations in and of themselves.
Why can’t Democrats use the same technique? They do—to some degree. But Democrats do not generally speak with one voice either in the legislature or in the media, and they do not effectively use the broken record technique. The one time they did it well, however, was on Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comment. A Pew research poll showed that two in three (66 percent) know he made the statement. On the other hand, the GOP has mastered it—and it is hard to counter, primarily because people have the tendency to believe the negative more than the positive, and Fox News commentators and GOP elected officials are relentless in their spin and constant in their attack.