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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grading Obama

It's a good thing most of us don't get to grade ourselves. In giving himself "a good solid B-plus" for his first calendar year in office, President Obama gave those who opine on the internet and cable television a bookbag full of material. Of course, everyone has an opinion on what Obama's grade really is - from Karl Rove, to everyone The Hill could ask, to everyone Politico could ask, to the many of you whose comments I've seen on blogs on this topic.

These are the days that make me feel lucky to have some data -- empirical, objective data -- to rely on.

Our most recent weekly read on Obama's job approval rating, based on daily samples of approximately 1,500 Americans, puts him at 49%. It's true that matches our lowest weekly read so far. It's also true that's down from the 60%+ ratings he enjoyed from January to June. What is a 49% and a double-digit slide -- in today's issue-laden and highly-polarized environment -- worth in letter grades? That's up to you to decide.

When looking at how Obama compares to prior presidents in December of their first-term, "below average" does technically fit the bill.


We update this chart every month on our politics page to highlight how Obama stacks up not only against today's expectations, but against the benchmarks set by history.

Of course, whittling Obama's performance into one number obscures many shades of gray. That's why we also scientifically measure Obama's approval on specific issues. The last time we checked, in late November, Obama was between 40% and 50% approval on most of the specific issues he's facing.

Our favorability measure provides yet another way to grade Obama. We just updated Obama's favorability in our weekend survey and will analyze the results for a story on Thursday. We'll also put a definitive end to careless reporting comparing Obama's approval rating to Sarah Palin's favorability rating. The two measures are not the same and our story on Thursday will show that neither are their ratings. Obama leads Palin in terms of favorability by 12 percentage points.

Also, in the next few weeks, we'll reveal the most admired men and women of 2009, as well as the year's political winners and losers, as rated by Americans. Both Obama and Palin -- plus Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and others -- will get new grades on those lists.

Report card time is stressful, as millions of students around the world know. But they are most reflective of one's performance when they are both objective and comprehensive. So we'll keep the grades coming in many forms here at Gallup. And, just like in school, there's always next year.

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