Obama’s Poll Numbers Are Better Than They Look

Obama’s numbers decline, but support remains divided along partisan lines.

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President Obama's job approval ratings, though tepid and declining, appear to be good enough to keep him from becoming a lame duck any time soon.

"Obama has a very high floor and a very low ceiling," says Frank Donatelli, chairman of the GOPAC conservative political action committee and former White House political director for President Ronald Reagan. That's because fellow Democrats remain very loyal to Obama but Republicans view him very unfavorably, and independents are split.

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The result is that Obama's poll numbers are likely to stay about where they are for the indefinite future despite the scandals and setbacks plaguing his administration. This will give him continued influence on Capitol Hill, at least with Democrats, but little sway with Republicans. All this is probably a recipe for continued stalemate, since Congress is divided between the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House.

Recent surveys find that 46.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing and 48.3 percent disapprove, according to an average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics – a drop in Obama's ratings.

 (Charles Dharapak/AP)
The president decision to lethally arm Syrian rebels could come to define his presidency.
 

Underneath those numbers, however, is an equally important statistic: The partisan divide is as wide as ever. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 87 percent of Democrats approve of the job Obama is doing while 86 percent of Republicans disapprove. This means that Obama's ratings probably won't sink very far but also that they won't rise very much.

The next test will be the mid-term elections next year. Republican strategists say that, if past patterns hold, the Democrats will do poorly because a two-term president's party "almost always is exhausted after six years," Donatelli says. But Democrats point out that most Americans give the GOP in Congress worse ratings than they give Obama or the Democrats, so past patterns might not repeat themselves.

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There is one major issue where there could still be progress in Washington: immigration reform. But that's less because of Obama's influence than the fact that Republicans fear that their low standing with Latinos requires them to take action, or risk permanent alienation in the Hispanic community, which considers immigration reform a high priority.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.