June 26th, 2009
12:02 PM ET

The White House numbers racket

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/06/24/obama.iran.analysis/art.obama2.gi.jpg]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

There is something dazzling about a president on the rise, settling into the steady rhythm of power, stress, deal making, and neck-breaking. And when 70 percent of the populace approves of how the job is being done, well that’s a long ball down the short grass. And that was the story for the first President George Bush, the most popular president of the past three decades…uh, at least when they are measured five months into their first term. More on that in a bit.

Much has been made about the overwhelming public approval of President Barack Obama, and he is the king of the political hill: Charismatic, athletic, a quick thinker, a skilled writer, with a dazzling smile and a lovely family. That’s pretty much like going platinum in DC-land.

But based on the most recent “Poll of Polls,” a compendium of top public opinion surveys, Mr. Obama, with 60 percent approval, lags a full 10 percent behind the first Mr. Bush for the same period in their presidencies. Surprised? So was I. When it comes to popular politicians, it seems our memories are tres short (as the French say) and screamingly selective.

Ronald Reagan is hailed as one of the most influential presidents of our time. (Some Republicans, I am told, actually saw him walk across the reflecting pool one night.) His approval rating in his fifth month in office was 59 percent; about the same as Mr. Obama’s.

Bill Clinton, however, did not do nearly as well. Despite having ambitious legislative plans when he arrived in the Oval Office, he also put his wife in charge of health care reform, saw the first attack on the World Trade Center, and the disastrous raid in Waco. Result: 39 percent approval in his fifth month.

That’s in the ballpark of where the 2nd George Bush ended his presidency, although we should note that in his fifth month, long before the wheels came off, President GWB was doing just fine: 55 percent approval.

The point is, the popularity of a president this early in the game means little, unless he can translate it into success for the programs he is pushing. Reagan was popular, stayed that way, and left that way. Clinton was in deep trouble, rose, and exited with historically high support. The last George Bush started strong, ascended to nose-bleed heights after 9/11, and yet packed up his bowling trophies with ratings in the basement.

And the first President Bush we started off by talking about? Best start for any of the past five presidents, but didn’t even win re-election. It’s been said before: the times make the president, not the other way around.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Barbara in Boston

    I think President Obama is doing a great job. It's a relief to have someone who leads.

    June 26, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  2. James

    the bankers are the real rulers of this country and all others so you can see how it would by easier for them if all puppet governments fail. they could take charge first hand.they could eleminate all borders an develope a singly world monetary system.they could controll all pay rates and we'll all be working for them,obama allready is.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:18 pm |
  3. Jeanette

    He hasn't caught the liking of all mid America yet. He has to prove all he is doing is right and works. So far that hasn't happened and people are talking about him being reelected next term?? I want to see our country on a more stable balance and out of this recession before I give any kudos to anyone.

    I agree that we should wait on health care until things are in better shape in our country. As stated above, he don't need to solve all the problems in 6 months. We have a lot more serious and pressing problems that he should be giving his undivided attention to. Too many things on the agenda in such a short time. We need to pay more attention to the Korean and Iran problems and less on health care at this time.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm |
  4. James

    people wake up look around allmost everything we buy is made overseas. how often do you see made in the usa compared to made in japan or china?We need to limit our imports to match our exports,monitaraly .

    By wrecklessly spending giving money overseas Obama is intentionaly riuning the value of the dollor.the north american union cann't succeed with the current democracy or monetary sestem.

    obama knows what hes doing but he's not working for us or the constitution.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:53 pm |
  5. Don

    The president is doing the best he can with bad economic conditions that festered before he came into office. It all happened so fast and there may not be easy answers. The US is changing, mid class jobs and the manufacturing companies that made them are going to less expensive countries. Much more than the auto industry is at stake....so these are hard times, a turning point in the nations history and times that call for thinking "out of the box" with good teams of people who can solve problems. So far he has done as well as can be expected. He is, of course, not liked by Republicans, but has caught the liking of mid America. We will see hot things go.

    June 26, 2009 at 2:08 pm |
  6. Linda P.

    Politicians beware. There is a growing movement within our country to get rid of all of them and elect fresh faces WHO WILL SERVE THE PEOPLE of the United States of America. I don't care if you are Democrat or Republican – DO YOUR JOB. Work to the better good of the constituents who elected you. It's just that simple. I am VERY tired of partisan politics.

    June 26, 2009 at 2:03 pm |
  7. Lisa in CA

    The problem I see with these guys coming in with "overwhelming" "popular" support is that they try to capitalize on it too fast (too much, too soon) and end up, well, blowing it.

    Obama doesn't need to solve every crisis in 6 months. He doesn't need to give us national healthcare until a few of the other crisis are over. Whatever "expert" pol is telling him to "strike while the iron is hot" hasn't learned their lessons either.

    At this rate, I'm not sure Obama will get a second term ...

    June 26, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  8. D. Mark O'Neill

    President Obama went into the banking business, the auto business, is now looking at health care and homeland security (illegal immigration) it won't be long before our tax paying citizens will see the light. Washington must understand that it isn't wise to keep spending money they don't have and start to hold people responsible for the trouble this country is in today.

    June 26, 2009 at 1:32 pm |
  9. Nick

    @Daniel The American people were actually quite happy with the idiot they elected for the last 8 years. That is until he started expanding the size of the executive branch and the federal government. Obama is no better. It's all rhetoric so far.

    June 26, 2009 at 1:32 pm |
  10. Karen


    Look at Gold and SIlver prices. All I can say is that i'm storing some in my safe. If you want to continue believing politicians go ahead.

    You cannot continue to barrow, tax and spend into eternity. The Chinese have to wake up some day.

    If the treasury fails to show up at the bond auction, brace for hell.

    June 26, 2009 at 1:28 pm |
  11. Joe G. (Illinois)

    Obama is doing a great job for the Conservative just like Sarah Palin did.. Go ahead.. Let them rally up.. “The world is watching.”

    June 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  12. Daniel

    I am so tired of hearing how President Obama is destroying this country, the American people need to think back to 1999 when they elected an idiot to be in charge. If this county expects change then we need to come together and make something happen!

    June 26, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  13. Karen

    Clinton blew up the NASDAQ bubble

    Bush blew up the Real Estate bubble

    Obama ?, he might cause the dollar to collapse, who knows.

    16 years of Clinton and Bush destroyed this country.

    June 26, 2009 at 12:47 pm |