Gallup chief puzzled by Obama's poll numbers

President Obama posted a 45 percent approval rating in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, which is higher than expected, says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor
Frank Newport, Editor in Chief of The Gallup Poll answers questions at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC on July 19.

Compared with other recent presidents, President Obama's approval numbers are "overperforming," given the struggling economy and Americans' low levels of satisfaction with the direction of the country, says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll.

The US unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent in June, the government reported earlier this month. And a Gallup poll conducted July 7-10 found that just 16 percent of Americans expressed satisfaction with the way things are going in the country – the lowest figure in two years. Still, Mr. Obama posted a 45 percent approval rating in the USA Today/Gallup poll conducted July 15-17.

At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters Tuesday, Mr. Newport compared Obama's approval ratings with those of President Reagan starting in 1981 and President Clinton starting in 1993. Both of the presidents were dealing with with troubled economies.

"Looking at history, particularly Clinton and Reagan, it is somewhat surprising that [Obama] has never yet fallen into the 30 percent range in our approval rating," Newport said. "And yet both Reagan and Clinton, in their first terms when the economy was perceived as bad ... both fell into the 30s."

Newport noted, "Satisfaction with the way things are going is ... correlated with economic perceptions fairly strongly." At the same time, Obama "is overperforming. Based on where every president has been, his approval rating now is higher than we would predict it to be based on" how satisfied American adults say they are.

Pollsters are not sure why Obama has fared better than expected in the polls. Newport offered two possibilities. "One theory has to do with personal characteristics of the man," the Gallup executive said. "The other has to do with the nature of politics today." Under that theory, Obama has "kind of a rock-hard coalition that are never going to abandon him in approval ratings, and therefore that is why his approval ratings will be propped up no matter what happens."

Gallup, he added, will be conducting research to get a more definitive answer to the question.

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