Become familiar with the chart showing President Obama’s job approval on my web website. You are also encouraged to look at other presidents by selecting them from the dropdown menu on the webpage:
Here is something I discuss in class that is not in the chapter:
Factors that affect public approval of the president:
1) The Economy: Simply, when the economy is doing well, meaning that economic indicators like unemployment, inflation (including gas prices), and interest rates are positive, the public usually approves of the president’s job performance. Of course, the president is not usually able to command a good economy, so he often suffers blame and enjoys praise even if the state of the economy is not in his immediate control.
2) The Rally Effect: When the United States experiences an acute event involving it’s foreign policy (someone attacks us, the beginning of a military engagement, or other international relations shock involving U.S. interests), the public tends to rally around the president. In a chart, one can see a quick bump in the president’s approval rating. The rally effect is usually short lived however. Americans want to see the problem resolved and when it drags on, approval often drops to its previous trend line after a plateau that lasts for a few months. Even if the problem was resolved successfully for the U.S. (imagine a brief military operation), economic concerns and other factors will again be the central concern of most Americans. Bush after 9-11 is a classic and obvious example.
3) Scandal: When the president or his administration becomes the focus of a scandal involving questions of lawbreaking or unethical behavior, Americans may disapprove of the president’s job performance. The data also suggests that the public differentiates between constitutional and personal scandals. Note that Clinton maintained his highest job approval numbers during the impeachment.
An additional dynamic: Presidents usually enter office enjoying positive job approval among more than 50% of Americans, and usually among a higher percentage of people than the percentage of popular votes he received in the election. Often the approval increases slightly during the first 100 days in office. We call this phenomenon the “honeymoon effect”, which is when the public, shaped also by the media and even the opposition party, gives deference to the new president. Washington politics soon sets in after this period.
You can see that President Obama was enjoying the “honeymoon effect,” but now, his approval is around the low to mid 40’s after having popped above 50% in time for his re-election in 2012.
For your assignment, navigate to my website’s collection of job approval data following the link above. Choose three different presidents from Harry S. Truman through Bill Clinton and look at the data. Look for an example of each of the three influences I discussed above, identifying one from one of the presidents you chose, another from a second president, etc. For example, you might want to discuss Eisenhower within the context of the economy, Truman, in the context of scandal, etc. Because I already identified certain historical examples, you may not choose Clinton’s scandal in 1998-99 or Nixon and Watergate since it is so well-known.
Then, do research and find some credible and accurate information that will allow you to identify the historical events that explain your findings. You might want to start by looking up some presidents on the Internet. If you come across Wikipedia, keep in mind that the best way to use Wikipedia is to start there for basic information, but make sure you then follow the footnotes on their pages to other more credible sources of information. Do not cite Wikipedia in academic work. Instead, use footnotes to navigate to more credible sources of information. Be careful when using online sources to make sure you are finding accurate information suitable for academic work.
One excellent source for research online is MERLOT.
Be very careful about avoiding plagiarism. Because I ask for you to do some web based research, I often find that people simply copy work from the Internet. Do not do that.