The standing line for most presidential aspirations goes, “what does every first-term president want? A second term.” However, it may be something future presidents want to reconsider.
With the past four presidents who served a second term (Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Obama), the fifth year seems to be one that they would all rather have done without.
But there are two key differences between the presidents of the 1980s and 1990s and those who held the office in the 21st Century.
Both Reagan and Clinton faced serious issues that should have sunk their approval ratings. Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal was a serious test, while Bill Clinton faced and survived only the second impeachment trial in U.S. history.
Interestingly, Reagan and Clinton saw similar patterns in general of their approval ratings, as measured by the Gallup Poll. Both presidents in their second terms (with a few months for Reagan being an exception) managed to keep their approval ratings above the average of previous presidents (the dotted line, which in second terms generally hovers in the high forties).
Looking a year out from their second mid-term congressional elections, Reagan had a Gallup approval rating of 62% with Clinton having a 59% approval rating.
For the president Obama and Bush, their second-term approval ratings have begun to closely align each other, and both have been below the average of their predecessors.
In fact, the mirroring of approval ratings for both Bush and Obama commenced in their re-election year. Starting in May of the year of their re-election campaigns, presidents have shared similar approval ratings, with a year to go before the second mid-term congressional election.
There’s another bit of similarity between the final two-term presidents of the 20th Century and the first two in the 21st Century: Gallup’s yearly average of the public’s approval of Congress was 42% in 1988 and 47% in 1998.
Granted, not spectacular, but most members of Congress today would kill for those numbers — even double-digit numbers.
In 2006, when George W. Bush’s party was flooded by the Democratic wave that year, Gallup’s yearly average for Americans’ approval of Congress was 25%; this year’s average will most likely be in the mid-teens (Congress started at 14% in January, and hit a monthly high of 19% before sinking down to 9%).
And it’s not just Congress as a whole, but individual members of Congress who are feeling the intense heat of public disapproval: Gallup registered the highest level of disapproval for their own representatives (43%) since 1977.
In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 60% of Americans said they would throw out all the bums in Congress but their own.
While it is still a year out, the warning signs are coalescing for President Obama in terms of what could be a disasterious second mid-term election. Granted, we’re only dealing with two presidential cases in the 21st Century so far, but is anyone really going to predict that our current political climate is going to change in less than a year?
If 2014 looks as bad as it could be, perhaps future presidents will have second thoughts on the viability of second terms.