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What's Behind Obama's Downward Spiral in His Job Approval Rating?

Updated on January 27, 2014

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.

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    • Lawrence L Beale profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence L Beale 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for your comments. The conservation continues.

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 

      4 years ago from usa

      Lawrence L Beale

      What's Behind Obama's Downward Spiral in His Job Approval Rating After watching the SOTU speech it was apparent that the President is not convincing the people on what he promised in 2009. His attitude of not recognizing that it is Congress's job to create legislation.

      1/30/14 House Leaders Send Letter To President Obama http://majorityleader.gov/newsroom/2014/01/house-l...

      Senator Coburn exposes WASTE

      http://www.coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/righ...

      Pay Go law of 2010 http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/paygo_description aFACT Republicans offered cuts to extend unemployment Democrats offered no cuts bill died in the Senate. Something that the President did not offer to resolve.

      I enjoyed the conversation.

    • Lawrence L Beale profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence L Beale 

      4 years ago

      Jon Ewal

      Thanks for your questions, Jon. What I said about "progressive" is not my total definition. The complete definition has to do with Democratic principles, which I don't want to get into at this time. The term "theology" comes from the Greek word "theos" and the word from which "ology" comes, which I can't remember at this point, means "study of God." The sense in which I used the term in response to your comments refers to two branches of theology (conservative and liberal) on which the two political philosophies are based. In terms of the "tea party, " space will not permit a response. To get a better understanding of how I use these terms, follow my Hubs. However, I know you underrstand what I said, because you are a level four commenter. THANKS AGAIN.

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 

      4 years ago from usa

      Lawrence L Beale

      Thank you for your definition of your progressivism. To be honest ,the words theology ( faith ) requires some thought. Tea party philosophy , what is their party plans? Political philosophy , can you expand the definition.

      LLB looking forward to hearing more JE

    • Lawrence L Beale profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence L Beale 

      4 years ago

      Jon Ewell

      Thanks for your comments. "Progressive," for me, is the term that replaces the demonized term "liberal," and means that nothing is static; every thing is moving. Progressivism is far from tea-party philosophy. It is embracing the present and welcoming the future with open arms. I am not only progressive in politics; I am progressive in theology. I am unhinged and unshackled--free! I am out of the box.

      In terms of television, I watch a bit of all cable news stations, including Fox. MSNBC is my favorite.

    • Lawrence L Beale profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence L Beale 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for your comments. I understand how you fell, because I understand your perspective. I was once a Republican. I know Republican political philsophy.

      Yes, I do believe the grandfather clause in the ACA was intended to cover all sub-par insurance plans, but it turned out that the sub-par plans sold after the signing were not covered. How that happened is hard to imagine.

      I think the president was right in pushing for the ACA. Only history, however, will write the final chapter.

      Thanks again. Your further comments are welcome.

    • profile image

      Hxprof 

      4 years ago from Clearwater, Florida

      Lawrence - Really? Are you honestly giving the president a break on that promise? The way I see it, Obama pushed hard for that bill to pass Congress....HARD. I think that the intensity he applied to obtaining passage needed to at least be matched by KNOWLEDGE about what the heck he was pushing. Doesn't that sound reasonable?

      I'm a conservative and I didn't cut Bush any slack on the WMD scenario with Iraq. Time and time again Bush claimed Iraq had WMD s (so did intelligence services in other countries) but when we invaded, there was nothing, not a freakin' thing. No slack for him, and I offer none for Obama on Obamacare. He flat out lied in order to get the bill passed - there's no way around it Lawrence!

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 

      4 years ago from usa

      LLB

      You are a progressive, what those that mean ? Is that something like what tea party is all about? C Span is a good ( you see the live actions )Many viewers are watching Fox News 1/02/14 Fox remains top cable news channel in 2013

      http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/... C Span 1 http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/SConsulat enghazi Whistle blower Hearing on C-Span3 live and un edited

      Looking forward to a reply and opinion

    • Lawrence L Beale profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence L Beale 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for your comments. I also watch the news with "a filter." Admittedly, I am not a conservative. But I try to look at both sides and the truth about every event, without spin. I, also, get daily Gallup polls and leading newspaper reports. I, also, look at events in light of my background in psychology and in theology.

      When it comes to the president lying about "if you like your plan, you can keep it," I take into consideration the intent of the grandfather clause in the Afforable Care Act. Thanks again for you comments. Keep your them the coming.

    • profile image

      Hxprof 

      4 years ago from Clearwater, Florida

      Lawrence-I do agree with the first comment. The president has been caught telling lies and fabricating figures. Yes, the Republicans have jumped all over this stuff, adding fuel to the fire where possible, though nothing more than Democrats did when Bush was in.

      Regards the media in general, it's all biased nonsense. I watch all my news with a filter. I've heard the Republicans utter some outrageous statements about Obama and his policies; however, these outrageous statements would have had little impact if there weren't some things being done by Democrats - Obama included - that give people cause to distrust the Obama administration.

    • Lawrence L Beale profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence L Beale 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for your comments. I am keenly aware of all you say. I watch both sides in politics. However, I am progressive. Your continued comments will be appreciated. Thanks again.

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 

      4 years ago from usa

      Lawrence L Beale

      A very interesting hub that never once mentioned what the Democrats are doing to help the President’s down grade. Are you aware that the Democrats have had 2/3s control of our government (2007-2014) In 2009 2010 President Obama ,Senator Reid and Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi had 100% control of government.

      The Republicans have had only 1/3 control of the government, the House ( 2011-2014 ) When we hear the President talk he complains that Congress is stalling his agendas, in the same breath Republicans are mentioned. The many many times he speaks hardly ever or never once mentioned the Democrats.

      For those who know and are aware of what Congress and the President has been doing, we should try to recognize that the President is disingenuous ,distorts the facts and truly has lied to the American people

      The President will be interviewed by Bill O Reilly, Fox News, at half time of the super bowl championship game

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