During a president’s first term, so much of his agenda is geared towards one thing – re-election. What will he do to help and not hurt those chances? Once a president begins his second term that focus is gone, and during the first half he is probably focused on two things – his legacy and helping his party earn seats in Congress during the upcoming mid-term elections. Looking at the past four two-term presidents, each had ups and downs during their 8 years and, at the end of the first years of their second terms, many also had very different approval numbers.
For President Obama, he ends this year with two big concerns – health care and the issues surrounding the rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s website, along with the National Security Agency’s listening to calls and reading emails of citizens. And, of course, the economy.
In 2005, George W. Bush was overseeing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amid questions about why troops were sent to Iraq in the first place. He also had to deal with the reaction to Katrina. Going back 40 years, Richard Nixon was dealing with Watergate and a crisis in the Middle East. And, none of these three men had a great year 5 of their respective presidencies, and it shows in their job ratings. For President Nixon, 37% of Americans gave him positive ratings on his overall job in November of 1973 while 34% gave positive marks to President Bush in November, 2005 and 34% give positive ratings to President Obama this month.
The two other recent two term presidents definitely had better year fives. For President Bill Clinton, he was just a month out from the Monica Lewinsky scandal breaking and the economy was going very well. For Ronald Reagan, 1985 brought the beginning of Glasnost and the first meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev; oh, and while Iran Contra did occur, it was not yet public knowledge. In November of 1997, almost three in five Americans (58%) gave President Clinton positive ratings, while in November, 1985 over two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) gave President Reagan positive marks on the overall job he was doing.
Overall Direction of the Country
For some of these same points in time, there are corresponding numbers for how Americans think the country as a whole is doing. And, these tend to correlate with opinion of the president with one exception. For President Reagan’s term, half of U.S. adults in December, 1985 believed things in the country were going in the right direction. For the two later points in time, two-thirds of Americans believed things in the country were going off on the wrong track (68% in November, 2005 and 67% in December, 2013). And, while almost two-thirds gave President Clinton positive ratings in November of 1997, over half (56%) of Americans believed things were going off on the wrong track a month later while 39% thought things were going in the right direction.