President Obama at One Year: Lower Ratings, Higher Doubts

On an individual level, marks at one year in office don't always predict full-term success. George W. Bush soared at one year after 9/11, but had a disastrous second term; Richard Nixon had 63 percent approval after one year but ended with a career average of just 49 percent. Nonetheless, there is a relationship overall; for presidents since Truman, approval at one year correlates with full-career approval at .63. Exclude Bush and it's .82.

PARTISANSHIP: Partisanship and ideology are the two most powerful features of Obama's ratings -- as is customary, and increasingly so in the past generation. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats approve of his performance in office, virtually unchanged from the first ABC/Post reading a month after he took office. That plummets to 20 percent approval among Republicans, down 17 points as the president's first year has unfolded.

More troubling for the administration is the shift among independents, the centerweight of national politics. Obama's approval rating in this group is down from 67 percent a year ago February to 49 percent now, an 18-point fall.

The trend is all the more important because independents, 38 percent of the public, outnumber Democrats and Republicans in this poll, as they did across 2009 for the first time since 1995. One key reason is continued defections from the Republican Party; 23 percent in this survey identify themselves as Republicans, matching the 2009 average and down steadily from its peak, 31 percent, on average in 2003. But Democrats have slipped too, to 32 percent now, compared with an average 36 percent in 2008, their best year since 1992.

The partisan divisions are different for Obama than they were for Reagan, who took office in a somewhat less partisan age. Reagan maintained 57 percent approval from independents after his first year, 8 points better than Obama, and also did better among Democrats than Obama among Republicans. But Reagan -- perhaps surprisingly given his iconic status in the GOP -- was a bit weaker in his own party at one year than Obama is today.

All this has implications for the midterm elections, but there's also time for it to change. An ABC News analysis, reported in more detail last month, finds a substantial correlation since 1946, .51, between a president's approval rating a year before his first midterm election and his party's losses in that election. But the correlation is much higher, .8, using approval immediately before the midterm election. What matters more is not Obama's approval now, but where it is in 10 months.

GROUPS – Obama remains most popular among young adults, ages 18 to 29, whose record level of support was crucial in the 2008 election. Nonetheless his approval rating is down 22 points in this group, from 84 percent last February to 62 percent now -- a big drop in a core group. His approval from seniors, meanwhile, is down 17 points, to 42 percent, his weakest age group.

Obama's lost 11 points in approval among liberals and moderates the past year, but twice that, a 20-point drop, in approval among conservatives, from 49 percent last February to 29 percent now. It hurts him especially since the ranks of self-identified conservatives have grown, to 38 percent in this poll (about half again as many liberals) and 37 percent on average last year, the most in ABC/Post annual averages since 1988. (The 1988-2008 average was 32 percent.)

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