I suppose it should come as no surprise that there exist some pretty basic correlations between consumer mood, the unemployment rate and assessments of presidential job performance.
Of course, presidential approval or disapproval ratings can bounce around or trend for a number of reasons… the start of a first term and matters of national security tend to command an elevated approval rating while unpopular wars or impeachment will generally have the opposite effect.
But as James Carville’s old Clinton-era adage reminds, it’s the state of the economy, especially during recessionary periods, that drives Americans sense of satisfaction with their leader in the White House.
Looking at the first chart below (click for super-dynamic version) that plots all presidential approval ratings (as given by Gallup) since 1977 along with the University of Michigan’s Consumer sentiment series, you can see that during periods of low or declining consumer mood, the presidential approval tends to suffer.
Similarly, peaks and troughs in the unemployment rate also tend to be reflected in presidential performance with peaks in the disapproval rating generally climbing during periods of increasing joblessness.
Next, regardless of economic conditions it appears that Americans are getting progressively more opinionated resulting in the “No Opinion” option of the Gallup poll trending down for the better part of 30 years and now standing at a point at which generally only 5% of respondents indicate that they have no judgment on the presidents’ performance one way or another.
Finally, for quick overview of over 70 years of presidential approval ratings, take a look at the following chart (click for dynamic full-screen version) that synthesizes the last thirteen presidents’ results into a single series.