President Obama came into office promising to be the opposite of George W. Bush, but he is imitating his predecessor in one regard — his second-term slide in popularity is almost a mirror image of the Republican’s declining fortunes in 2005.
Mr. Obama’s job-approval ratings in most polls this month were 40 percent or lower, down from 54 percent at the start of the year and the lowest of his presidency. Mr. Bush’s popularity in December 2005 stood at 43 percent, down from a high of 57 percent near the beginning of his second term and less than half the 90 percent-plus approval ratings in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Only Watergate-plagued Richard Nixon had a worse rating than Mr. Obama at the same point of his presidency, in 1973. Although presidents tend to lose some public approval after winning second terms, Mr. Obama’s numbers slipped more quickly than most others.
“The history of the presidency is like an hourglass with the sand running out,” said Stephen Hess, a presidential historian at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. “There is a little bump up at the start of the fifth year, and then the downward trend continues. The problem here is that Obama had such a terrible fifth year. He blew that one opportunity he had to put some things together.”
Almost from the moment of his reelection, Mr. Obama was sidetracked by scandals including the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups and revelations of widespread spying by the National Security Agency.
In October came the hapless launch of the Obamacare website and the public’s realization that Mr. Obama didn’t tell the truth when he assured consumers that they could keep their health if that’s what they preferred. The president’s broken promise damaged his credibility and was chosen by an independent fact-checking group as the biggest political lie of 2013.