What Obama’s Approval Rating says about Trump and Clinton


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A new poll shows that President Obama’s approval rating is starting to surge. With 55% approval, Obama hit his highest approval rate for his entire second term. His current approval rating is only a couple of points off his highest ever approval, which came early in his first term.

Given that Obama has done very little recently to earn this spike in popularity, what is the source of his new found support and what are the consequences for the election? On the surface, Obama’s higher approval rating might seem to translate well for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. However, this poll is actually bad news for both Clinton and Trump.

Since Obama has not done anything to earn this popularity spike, it’s more likely that approval of Obama is more of a reflection of disapproval with the two presidential candidates. It is now sinking in that either Trump or Clinton will be the next president. In comparison to these two unpopular candidates, Obama looks pretty good in comparison. Thus Obama’s jump in support is a reflection of people’s fears that things are going to get worse after the election and that Obama doesn’t seem so bad in comparison.

As has been demonstrated in previous polling Clinton and Trump are the two most disliked presidential candidates in the history of modern polling. Trump and Clinton both have record high levels of strongly unfavorable ratings, with both candidates even worse than George W. Bush going into his second term after the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

Net favorability ratings are also strongly negative for both candidates with Clinton around -20 and Trump around -40. By comparison, the worst net favorable rating since 1980 was Mitt Romney’s -8 in 2012. This means that both Trump and Clinton are at least twice as disliked as the most disliked candidate in the last 36 years.

An outgoing president facing a surge of support ahead of an election with two weak candidates is not unprecedented. Bill Clinton shot up in popularity at the end of his term, gaining 11 approval points starting in the summer leading up to the 2000 election between Gore and Bush. While Gore and Bush were not as historically disliked as Trump and Hillary Clinton, there was a general perception that these were two very weak candidates, which even prompted the third party surge of Ralph Nader.

Obama’s increase in favorability is ultimately a reflection of the average American’s fear about what will happen once Obama is out of office. This surge of popularity does not reflect well on either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and ultimately has little to do with Obama’s policy or performance as President.

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