JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 21, 2011
Gallup editor Frank Newport has a nice, pithy analysis of President Obama's ability to defy political gravity:
Newport says he's crunched the numbers as far back as they go in Gallup's polling archive and found that no one's done as well as Obama when the public is as unhappy with the economy.
"Based on where every president has been, his approval rating now is higher than we would predict it would be based on satisfaction [with how the country is doing]," Newport said.
Obama's ability to defy the economic fundamentals is one of the most significant facts of the current landscape. It doesn't command a lot of attention because Obama's approval ratings aren't all that great. But considering the state of the economy they are actually unbelievably great -- sort of like a baseball player who hits 20 home runs a year while playing in a stadium with a 450 foot deep fence.
Newport suggests two possible explanations:
"The two major threads of theories are something about the personality of the man, and the other is the nature of coalition politics today," Newport said. "[They have] become such that he has a strong coalition of certain types of voters who are going to support him no matter what and that props up his approval rating."
The hypothesis about political polarization makes sense until you consider George W. Bush, a polarizing president whose support base collapsed during his second term.
I'd suggest that the economic fundamentals may be dragging down Obama less than expected in part because the economic crisis began before he took office. That distinguishes Obama from most other presidents who have seen recessions drag down their popularity. As for how long it lasts, we're in uncharted waters.
That aside, I think it's also clear that Obama is a very skilled politician, an effective communicator who people like and want to succeed.