Despite the best wishful thinking of Team Obama and its supporters, presidential reelection campaigns are referendums on the incumbent asking the voters for a second term. Democrat conventional wisdom is that George W. Bush was unpopular in 2004 and the only reason he won reelection was because of a relentlessly negative campaign against their candidate John Kerry. Team Obama hopes to apply that strategy on steroids against Republican Mitt Romney.
The problem is that there is no evidence to support the underlying assumption concerning the Bush campaign. Kerry’s approval rating was irrelevant to the 2004 results. Political analyst Jay Cost reviewed the 2004 exit poll data and found that Bush won reelection on the strength of his own 53% overall approval rating. Bush did not win a single state where he suffered net disapproval and even lost four states where he enjoyed net approval. Driving Kerry approval down did not help Bush take any state where the voters did not already approve of the President.
In a recent article for RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende found that Gallup’s final job approval numbers are a rough proxy for the percentage of the vote earned by a president seeking reelection. Indeed, the RealClearPolitics average of Mr. Obama’s job approval has basically tracked his average numbers in horserace polls against Mitt Romney.
So where is Mr. Obama’s standing with voters?
Gallup has released Barack Obama’s average job approval percentage for the first quarter of his 2012 reelection campaign – 45.9%. As points of comparison, previous presidents who won reelection enjoyed approval in their thirteenth quarter in office ranging from Eisenhower’s 73.2% to George W. Bush’s 51.0%. Mr. Obama’s approval stands the 41.8% of George H.W. Bush and the 47.7% of Jimmy Carter at the same point in their presidencies. Needless to say, both Bush 41 and Carter lost their reelection bids rather badly.
Indeed, Gallup notes that Mr. Obama has not enjoyed historical reelection level approval since the fall of 2009 – his first year in office.
To borrow a line from an iconic Rolling Stones song, no matter how many speeches Mr. Obama gives, he just can’t get no voter satisfaction.