Hillary Clinton’s Real Problem May be Barack Obama

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by LARRY J. SABATO, KYLE KONDIK and GEOFFREY SKELLEY 

The two factors that might be most vital to Hillary Clinton’s chances—the identity of the eventual Republican nominee and the standing of President Obama—are elements over which she has little influence. It’s the second factor, Obama’s job approval rating, that is especially critical. And the state and national polling numbers present a contradictory story.

By our count, so far in 2015 (as of April 13) there have been 52 polls in 21 states that have reported approval and disapproval numbers for Obama. We analyzed those polls and found that, in the majority of them, Obama’s approval rating is worse than one might expect, given his national standing. This underperformance appears more pronounced in states with heavily white populations—including key swing states Iowa and New Hampshire.

Before we explore the inconsistent numbers, it’s worth asking why the job approval rating of a man who isn’t on the ballot matters so greatly for 2016.

While the sample size is small, no retiring president below 50 percent job approval nationally has passed the White House to his party’s nominee in the 75 years of the polling era. Obama’s approval rating, as of this writing, is around 45 percent (give or take), and his disapproval is about 50 percent. That’s not impressive, though it is up a bit from the low 40s where Obama was mired in national approval polling at the time of last year’s midterm election.

There isn’t a precise, absolute relationship between incumbent presidential approval and the election results. However, it’s a solid indicator of the likely outcome. Take a look at the table below, which shows the Gallup poll’s approval rating of the sitting president before the presidential election:

Year 

Incumbent

Gallup Oct. to Election Day avg. (or last poll before election)

1952

Truman

32.0

1956

Eisenhower*@

68.0

1960

Eisenhower

61.5

1964

Johnson*#

74.0

1968

Johnson^

42.0

1972

Nixon*#

56.0

1976

Ford*#

45.0

1980

Carter*^

37.0

1984

Reagan*

56.0

1988

Reagan

52.5

1992

G.H.W. Bush*

33.5

1996

Clinton*

56.0

2000

Clinton

57.5

2004

G.W. Bush*

49.2

2008

G.W. Bush

26.5

2012

Obama*

50.8

*Incumbent seeking reelection
Last Gallup poll date
#June
@August
^September

Source: Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center

With President Truman at 32 percent in November 1952, Democrat Adlai Stevenson had no real chance to win. President Johnson’s Gallup approval was 42 percent right before Election Day 1968, and Democrat Hubert Humphrey secured a mirror-image 42.7 percent of the vote. President Carter clocked in at 37 percent in November 1980, and received 41 percent of the vote. President George H.W. Bush was even lower (33.5 percent) at election time in 1992, sealing his fate, and his son George W. Bush was deep in the presidential cellar (26.5 percent) in 2008; the wonder is that John McCain garnered 45.6 percent of the vote.

Other times, when there’s a popular president leaving office, his party’s nominee hopes to secure the incumbent’s third term, such as Richard Nixon in 1960 as President Eisenhower’s surrogate or George H.W. Bush in 1988 as President Reagan’s chosen successor. Remarkably, Nixon failed to win even though Ike was at 61.5 percent approval at election time; by contrast, Bush was able to make the grade handily with Reagan holding steady at 52.5 percent in Gallup.

Then there is the odd case of Vice President Al Gore in 2000. Gore tried to run on the achievements of the Clinton Administration while keeping the scandal-tainted President Clinton at arm’s length—a mistake in retrospect, since an unleashed Bill Clinton, flying high at 57.5 percent job approval, could probably have won all-important Florida for Gore and might well have had some impact in Arkansas, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia, all of which Gore lost. (Even if he still lost Florida, winning just New Hampshire would have put Gore in the White House.)

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SOURCE: Politico

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