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May 11, 2012 8:28 AM Obama Passes George W. Bush

By Jonathan Bernstein

Today’s Gallup approval number for Barack Obama is 48%, covering May 7-9. Meanwhile, a Gallup’s May 7-9, 2004 poll had George W. Bush dropping to 46%. This is the first time that Obama has been ahead of Bush at the same stage of their terms since September of their first year, when of course Bush had the all-time record rally event. I wrote about that this was about to happen last week, but it finally did happen today, so I figure I might as well make a post of it.

Now, the 46% was probably a bit phony; it was the lowest sounding all year, and he would soon improve up to 47% in the next poll, taken May 21-23. On the other hand, Obama has certainly — for now — at least caught Bush, who would stay in that high 40s/low 50s range up until election day. That’s almost exactly where Obama has been since mid-April, with a low of 46% approval and a high of 51%.

All of which is only to say that looking only at approval ratings, Obama remains clearly behind Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton; clearly ahead of George H.W. Bush and Carter; and even with George W. Bush. Which puts him right on track for a very close re-election race…if nothing changes between now and then. As I said last week, what you think of Obama’s chances will depend on whether you think he’s sort of Reagan/Clinton lite (rebounding from a bad economy, just not as well), in which case you think he’ll win comfortably, or if you think he’s W. all over again, in which case you think he’ll be stagnant all year and have a close election. Unless new events intervene, however, it’s hard for me to see a Carter/Bush pattern in which he just falls out of serious contention. Of course, events could intervene, and if it is similar to 2004 there’s no guarantee at all that he’ll win.

Meanwhile, if you look at Pollster’s trend line, you’ll see that Obama’s approval has stayed almost completely flat for over two months, although his disapproval trend appears to be just marginally heading up (in other words, his net approval is getting very slightly worse). So factor that, too, into your assessment of where he is right now.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.