August 24, 2010 / 8:10 PM / 9 years ago

Factbox: Obama poll slide mirrors Reagan's 1982 midterm woes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s declining approval rating recalls the slide in popularity suffered by Ronald Reagan, who grappled with a recession in the early 1980s and lost strength in congressional elections before bouncing back to win a second presidential term.

The following highlights changes in approval ratings, unemployment and personal income levels during Reagan’s first term, compared with how things have evolved so far for Obama.


The early presidency of Republican hero Reagan, like Obama’s, endured the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Unemployment under Reagan rose from 7.2 percent when he took office in January 1981 to a 10.8 percent peak in November 1982. Personal income, a measure of American financial well-being that economists say clearly effects U.S. election results, also stagnated over this period. It grew just 2.2 percent during 1982 in real, inflation-adjusted terms, and a mere 1.4 percent in the final quarter of the year.


Reagan paid a price. Climbing unemployment was matched by a drop in his popularity to 42 percent before the 1982 congressional elections from 51 percent when he took office.

Voter disenchantment subsequently led to the loss of 27 Republican seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in the November 1982 elections, entrenching control of the chamber in Democratic Party hands.

But the woe did not last and as unemployment slowly declined, Reagan’s poll fortunes improved. From a 35 percent low in his approval rating, it rallied steadily to 58 percent by late October 1984 as unemployment shrank to 7.4 percent. Real personal income grew by 7.2 percent in 1984.

Reagan went on to crush Democratic presidential challenger Walter Mondale, winning 49 U.S. states and 59 percent of the popular vote to decisively secure a second White House term.


The recession that began in December 2007, and which Obama inherited when he replaced Republican George W. Bush, surpassed the downturn under Reagan in its duration.

U.S. unemployment in this downturn reached a 10.1 percent peak and remains near that level, standing at 9.5 percent in July. Real personal income grew 1.7 percent in 2008 and barely at all last year, inching up by just 0.6 percent. It grew by just 0.2 percent in June, the latest month for which data is available.

In addition, U.S. economic growth slowed in the second quarter to 2.4 percent at an annual rate from 3.7 percent in the previous three months, economists have cut forecasts, and recent forward-looking indicators hint at further economic softening ahead, raising fears of a double-dip recession.


Like Reagan, economic uncertainty and stubbornly high unemployment have hit Obama’s poll numbers, spelling trouble for his fellow Democrats as they struggle to maintain control over Congress in November 2 elections and hurting his 2012 re-election bid if growth stays stuck in low gear.

Republicans also slam him for record deficits. But economists say that has not had much influence on voters in the past, who care most about their own finances.

Still, Obama’s once lofty approval rating has weakened and now stands at 45 percent, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday. The latest Gallup poll has Obama’s rating at 44 percent, down from 66 percent when he took office.

Economists remain broadly confident, however, the U.S. economy will steadily mop up jobless workers The U.S. Federal Reserve predicts an average unemployment rate of 7.1 percent to 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Unemployment of 7 percent is high by U.S. historical standards. But political analysts say that if the past is any guide, such momentum should be sufficient to keep Obama in the White House for a second term.

Compiled by Alister Bull; Editing by Peter Cooney

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