There was a lot of talk this week about President Obama’s approval ratings dropping to 43%, but it is not clear this really means anything. In fact, I think it is arguable that — since we all know that some tough choices need to be made — if his approval rating was high, it would probably mean the tough choices were not being being made.
People make a big deal out of presidential approval ratings because they think a low approval rating means less chance of getting re-elected. But a low approval rating is not really much of an indicator this far from the election. You can see from the nice chart and commentary provided by Nate Silver that, although presidents with approval numbers less than 50% on election day usually don’t get re-elected, sometimes approval numbers improve from the 40% or less range in the months leading up to the election, and the incumbent gets re-elected. Also, all of the presidents in the chart with approval ratings over approximately 50% got re-elected, so the approval rating bar is not that high.