As Barack Obama drifts toward the end of his presidency, his steadily rising job approval ratings during 2016 occasionally get mentioned as an ace in the hole for Hillary Clinton in November. Using Gallup’s measurement, it’s now up to 54 percent and has not been below 50 percent since July. Since his job approval number was actually lower when he was reelected in 2012, it’s a sign all those big “wrong track” numbers are not about the incumbent president.
What we sometimes forget, however, is how Obama’s public standing compares to that of his predecessor at the same stage in his second term. Gallup tells us W.’s job approval number at this point in October of 2008 was 25 percent. Yes, that’s right — it was less than half of Obama’s.
Now, it’s true we were in the throes of the financial crisis at this point eight years ago. But without question that was part of Bush’s legacy, and something that depressed Obama’s popularity after it became obvious the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath were not going away just because of a change of party control of the White House. And it’s not like W.’s 2008 preelection numbers were a temporary outlier, either. His job approval rating had only improved to 34 percent by the time he left office.
So much of political media coverage these days revolves around the idea of major-party equivalence, subtly reinforcing the idea — which we are told millennials in particular are prone to accept — that it’s all just garbage in, garbage out, with pretty much the same results no matter who wins or loses elections. First-time voters too young for any mature memories of 2008 and the years immediately preceding that election should be reminded that sometimes it does matter who runs the country.