Low Congressional Approval Won’t Help Pres. Obama

During his recent taxpayer-funded campaign trip across the Midwest, President Obama made the claim that not only would he be laying out a “very specific” jobs plan, but that if Congress did not pass his plan, “then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people…”

Hasn’t he also railed against a supposed “my way or the highway” mentality? Only when it can be applied to someone else, I guess.

But do Congressional approval numbers matter?

The answer appears to be no. For as long as Congressional approval has been measured, it seems there has never been a time where Congress was more popular than the sitting President. Interestingly, presidential and congressional approval seem to move in tandem. It seems Congress’s approval rating has no real affect on a President’s re-election chances, as the chart below demonstrates:

It’s the President’s approval, not Congress’ approval that matters. In American politics, a President falling below 40% sets off alarm bells. As the chart shows, that is for good reason.

This also appears to apply to electing a new president from the same party. For instance, in 2008, President George W. Bush had an approval rating of 32%. And even though the average approval rating for Congress at that time was 23% (controlled by Democrats), the Republican presidential nominee was not elected. In fact, even though the Democrat-controlled Congress was very unpopular, they actually picked up seats in Congress.

Now, obviously there were many mitigating factors. But it shows just how important the President, his policies and his approval are. In 2010, as President Obama’s approval rating was falling – as well as Congress’s – and Americans started believing that the country was on the wrong track, a historical Congressional turnover occurred.

In a Presidential election, the President’s approval matters, when it’s a Congressional election, it’s still mainly the President’s approval.  President Obama will get nowhere “running against” Congress, conservative solutions or the legacy of his predecessor.

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