Obama’s Upside-Down Approval

Photograph Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama campaign buttons for sale during a campaign event in Oakland, California, on July 23, 2012.

He started strong.

President Barack Obama’s public job approval started at 69 percent in the first three days following his inauguration, according to the Gallup Poll.

His disapproval rating, 14 percent, was negligible for a new president emerging from a hard-fought election contest.

Today, in Gallup’s daily tracking, the share of the public voicing disapproval for the job Obama is performing as president — 49 percent — exceeds by 5 points the percentage of those voicing approval, 44 percent.

The trend-lines of the tracking of the Obama presidency show that he made it through most of his first year in office with stronger approval than disapproval. Yet, since December of 2009 the dueling ratings have bounced positive and negative — a tightening that corresponded with a long political fight over health-care on Capitol Hill that ended in the spring of 2010.

The president suffered his worst ratings last summer, reaching a peak of 55 percent disapproval and trough of 38 percent approval at the end of August — in the midst of an escalating campaign for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination which focused a lot of criticism on Obama.

Since early this year, the president’s ratings have crossed paths like ships in the night, fluctuating around a tie in public opinion.

Overall, Gallup reports, the president’s average quarterly approval rating has improved slightly in each of the last three quarters — dipping to a low of 41 percent in the 11th quarter of his presidency. It was 46.8 percent in the last quarter, the 14th.

With little more than three months left until Election Day, the latest spread in opinion means that Obama is holding a marginal advantage over Republican Mitt Romney in most public polls (an average 1.7 percentage-point lead between July 5 and July 17.)

This could partly explain why the president’s latest venture on swing-state television — a 60-second spot contrasting his views on taxes with those of Romney’s — plays to the comforting music of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” rather than the alarmist tone of  past ads attacking Romney for his work at Bain Capital and concealment of personal tax returns.

Romney is expected to pull no punches today as he addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno with plans to accuse Obama of appeasing the nation’s major adversaries and leaving the U.S. weaker as a result.

Yet, Romney will leave tonight for a week-long foreign tour starting with the summer Olympic Games in London and carrying him through Poland and Israel, a tour on which the American abroad is unlikely to criticize the president back home.

Which opens a certain window for that president, five points down in the shifting balance of public approval, to work on accentuating his positives.

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