Ah, 2011. What a topsy-turvy year you've been.
As Americans, we've been up on the economy, down on the economy, and then way down on the economy. We've been happy with President Obama's performance; we've been disappointed with it. We are happy with troop draw-downs in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we've been undecided about how the "war on terror" is going.
That's all according to polling compiled by Gallup, one of the most respected survey organizations, and re-released as part of a review of public opinions in 2011.
Take the president's approval numbers as an example. As one could expect, Obama's approval ratings bounced up following his announcement that U.S. military forces had killed Osama bin Laden in early May, rising to 52 percent. But the toll of a stagnant economy eventually returned Obama's approval back down into the 40s. Just days ago, perhaps linked to a standoff with House Republicans, the president's approval numbers edged out his disapproval numbers for the first time since early July, 47 to 45. But that too was fleeting, as the most current ratio is 41 percent approval to 50 percent disapproval.
A release accompanying the president's November approval ratings said Obama's number was below the mark necessary to be optimistic about getting re-elected.
"Gallup finds that presidents are generally re-elected if their approval rating at the time of the election is at least 50 percent, though George W. Bush was re-elected with a 48 percent approval rating in 2004," Gallup said. "Thus, Obama's current 43 percent job approval rating is not an encouraging sign for his re-election prospects."
Americans' views on the economy are perhaps easier to understand. After a job-shredding 2009, the employment numbers began to plateau near the end of 2010, resulting in economic optimism at the start of 2011. According to a January survey, nearly 60 percent of Americans said 2011 would be better than 2010 and 4 in 10 said the economy was getting better. But by April, the number fell to 33 percent and in July, just 26 percent of respondents said the economy was improving, the lowest since March 2009. By August, more than three quarters of Americans believed the economy was getting worse.
The dismal numbers are attributed to the unchanging unemployment rate and a series of perceived failures of elected officials throughout the year, including the debt fight over the summer that resulted in a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.
"The first-half GDP numbers show the U.S. economy has been growing a lot more slowly than many economists thought. Gallup Daily tracking of economic confidence during July and the first week of August suggests that this economic deterioration combined with the battle over the debt ceiling in Washington has sent consumer economic expectations plunging," said a Gallup analysis at the time.
The Gallup 2011 roundup also highlighted that in June, 72 percent of Americans approved of Obama's announcement to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan, though it showed Democrats feeling that the timetable for doing so was too slow. A May poll also showed most thought the war was going well, as opposed to similar surveys taken in 2009 and 2010, which Gallup attributes to the death of bin Laden. But a September poll, taken to commemorate 10 years of the "war on terror," showed Americans split on whether the U.S. and allies were winning that effort versus no side holding the advantage.
"Americans' views of the war on terrorism are in an almost identical position to where they were in October of 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks," said a Gallup analysis at the time. "The public remains essentially split on the issue of whether the U.S. and its allies are winning, or whether neither side is winning the war, with few holding the belief that the terrorists are winning."
Gallup also offers highlights of the wild GOP presidential race, showing Mike Huckabee as the most likeble potential GOP candidate and Sarah Palin the most recognized as of January. In May, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was highly recognized but not well-liked by Republicans when he first announced his candidacy. In June, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain were tied for the most liked out of the Republican field. And by August, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the favorite among GOP voters to take on Obama. Currently, none are considered likely to win the nomination.