Conventional wisdom holds that when a president runs for re-election, the campaign is a referendum on his performance during his first four years. I think history confirms that that view is correct. So, given that President Obama has been mired in the doldrums of unpopularity and disapproval for the large majority of his first term, does he have a chance to be re-elected?
At U.S. News’ Washington Whispers, Paul Bedard offers some historical context. President Obama’s job approval rating, as measured by Gallup, is now down to 43%, compared to Jimmy Carter’s 51 percent at the same point in his first term. Bedard graphs the Gallup approval ratings of the post-WWII presidents at this stage of their first term, a year before re-election:
— Harry S. Truman: 54 percent.
— Dwight Eisenhower: 78 percent.
— Lyndon B. Johnson: 44 percent.
— Richard M. Nixon: 50 percent.
— Jimmy Carter: 51 percent.
— Ronald Reagan: 54 percent.
— George H.W. Bush: 52 percent.
— Bill Clinton: 51 percent.
— George W. Bush: 55 percent.
— Barack Obama: 43 percent.
To be fair to Obama, Carter’s approval rating experienced a boomlet at about this time in 1979 due to the beginning of the Iranian hostage crisis, when the country rallied, briefly, behind the overmatched peanut farmer. Still, you can get the drift: In our modern history, no one with an approval rating as low as Obama’s at this point in this term has ever been re-elected. Lyndon Johnson was just a point higher, and he gracefully bowed out. Everyone else was considerably higher. So Obama is in uncharted territory, but it is fair to say that there is no modern precedent for a president as unpopular as Obama being elected to a second term.