By
updated 1/25/2011 11:58:02 AM ET 2011-01-25T16:58:02

Facing high unemployment and lukewarm public approval, President Barack Obama can take heart from history: At the same point in his presidency 28 years ago, Ronald Reagan was saddled with an approval rating much lower than Obama's is now. And the unemployment rate then was a full percentage point higher.

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

For Reagan, the economy soon recovered quickly and strongly, carrying him to re-election in 1984, one of the biggest landslides in U.S. political history. It's possible Obama could benefit from an equally robust economic revival before Election Day 2012. But expectations are lower this time, because the government has already used up most of its tools to boost the economy.

Video: State of the Union: It's all about the economy (on this page)

Recent history suggests a president's fortunes can turn dramatically, for better or worse, on economic swings from the halfway mark of his first term to the next Election Day. Here are some examples:

    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California
    6. Christie acknowledges federal subpoena
    7. Obama says Fox News's O'Reilly 'absolutely' unfair in extended interview
    8. Christie security officer hit with shoplifting charges
  1. More politics
    1. Obama's 2nd year
      AP
    2. Political Cartoons

President Ronald Reagan
Midway through his first term, Reagan's approval rating was 37 percent. No wonder. When Reagan delivered his State of the Union address in January 1983, the unemployment rate was at 10.4 percent — nearly 3 percentage points higher than when he took office.

Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker had pushed interest rates as high as 20 percent to slow the economy and snuff out inflation. He succeeded. But the result was the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Political pundits wrote Reagan off as a one-term president.

Yet once he whipped inflation, Volcker reversed course and lowered interest rates. Reagan's tax cuts also jolted the economy. By Election Day 1984, the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.2 percent and was still dropping. Proclaiming the arrival of "Morning in America," Reagan won another four years in the White House.

First Thoughts: What has changed (and what hasn't)

President George H.W. Bush:
A little more than two years into his presidency, George H.W. Bush looked invincible. His approval rating had hit 89 percent after the U.S. military drove Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces from Kuwait in February 1991.

But a weak economy extinguished Bush's hopes for re-election. The military triumph in the Gulf temporarily lifted Bush's popularity after the United States slid into recession. Rising unemployment, though, gradually took a toll. So did the perception that Bush had lost touch with voters who were struggling financially. His opponent in the 1992 election, Bill Clinton, famously built his campaign around the phrase, "It's the economy, stupid."

By November, the unemployment rate was 2 percentage points higher than when Bush took office. Bush lost his re-election bid in a three-way race with Clinton and independent candidate Ross Perot. The next month, a panel of economists decreed that the recession had officially ended in March 1992, eight months before Election Day.

Video: Jarrett: Jobs growth will be focus of speech (on this page)

President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton was floundering after two years in the White House. His health care reform plan had failed. In the 1994 midterm election, Republicans had seized back control of both the House and Senate. Clinton's approval rating was at 47 percent.

But over the next two years, a strengthening economy, and a successful budget standoff against congressional Republicans, reversed Clinton's fortunes. From his inauguration through Election Day 1996, the unemployment rate fell from 7.3 percent to 5.4 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average shot up 88 percent. In November, Clinton scored an easy victory over Sen. Bob Dole and Perot.

President George W. Bush
Attention to terrorism and war overshadowed George W. Bush's first term, despite an eight-month recession in 2001 and a slow recovery that produced few jobs. After the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, the nation rallied around Bush as he prepared for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Two years into his presidency, Bush's approval rating was 58 percent, even though unemployment was higher and the stock market lower than when he took office. His approval rating would top 70 percent after U.S. troops occupied Baghdad in April 2003.

From there, Bush's approval rating would fall steadily. The unemployment rate rose from 4.2 percent, when Bush entered the White House, to 5.4 percent on Election Day 2004. By then, the economy had lost jobs since the president had taken office. Even so, Bush managed to score a solid victory over Sen. John Kerry in November 2004.

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama's popularity could be worse considering the unemployment rate remains 9.4 percent more than a year after the recession ended. An Associated Press-GfK poll found that 53 percent of Americans approve of how Obama is governing, a middle-of-the-pack ranking for presidents in their second year.

Vote: Will you watch the State of the Union?

More than half of Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy. Only 35 percent say it's improved on his watch. That's down from 40 percent a year earlier.

Yet "he's clearly ahead of Reagan" at similar points in their presidencies, says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

  1. Most popular

Obama also shares one of Reagan's enduring strengths: People like him.

In the AP-GfK poll, 83 percent of Americans call Obama likable, 62 percent label him a strong leader and 61 percent say he's in touch with ordinary people.

Analysts expect the economy to pick up speed between now and Election Day 2012. But Obama can't benefit as Reagan did from aggressive interest rate cuts by the Fed. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has practically run out of ammunition, having already lowered short-term interest rates to near zero. So Obama faces the risk that unemployment will remain high when voters decide whether he deserves four more years.

And his re-election hopes could be undermined in other unpredictable ways — a severe setback in Afghanistan, for instance.

Still, Intrade Prediction Markets, which lets investors bet on election results and other events, puts Obama's chances to remain in the White House beyond 2012 at around 60 percent.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Jarrett: Jobs growth will be focus of speech

  1. Closed captioning of: Jarrett: Jobs growth will be focus of speech

    >> valerie jarrett is a senior adviser to mr. obama. thanks for joining us.

    >> thank you, matt. good morning.

    >> let's talk about what's being called the president's move to the center. here's what mitch mcconnell said over the weekend. "i'm happy the president is pivoting, slooet let's see if he's willing to do it and if he is i think he'll find a lot of help among republicans in congress." is this about a pivot, move to the center? is it a reaction to the last election or in preparation for the next election?

    >> none of the above , matt. what the president is focused on every day since he was elected is what are we going to do to grow our economy, create jobs in america . he had to make very tough decisions and now we have seen the economy coming back. we're seeing private sector job growth , over a million this year. the stock market is up so people's retirement funds are increasing. as we look to the future we are really focused on winning for america . that's going to be the focus of the speech. what we can do together.

    >> one of the things he's doing is reaching out to big business , appointing two big business leaders to key posts. is there a risk-reward in that? does he risk alienating liberal voters by doing that?

    >> no. i think what he's doing is recognizing that the long-term sustainable growth and job creation of our country rests with the private sector . so who better than creating jobs in america , who's exporting goods created in america all over the world and bringing goods back to america to strengthen the economy, who better to advise the president? he has advisors from small, medium, large, all kinds of businesses, matt. i don't think we should jump to conclusions because of one really important appointment.

    >> let me ask you about deficit and spending. is the president tonight going to do what some democrats criticized republicans for not doing over the past year or so? will he get specific about where he will make cuts in spending? will he embrace some of the tough recommendations from the deficit reduction commission -- you know, cutting things like social security , medicare and defense?

    >> tonight's budget -- speech really will lay out a framework for the future. in the next few weeks he'll release his budget which will be specific. on social security the president has said he wants to keep social security strong. he doesn't believe in privatizing social security , letting it go up and down with the marketplace. on that specific point he will be very clear, but the budget will come out in three weeks. it will be specific. at the end of tonight's speech, i think every american will understand the president is absolutely committed to getting our fiscal house in order, bringing down the deficit.

    >> quickly, if you will, in the wake of the tragic shootings in tucson, there have been calls for tougher gun laws in this country. the mayor of new york city called on the president to use this opportunity to get tough on gun laws and to change the way background checks are done for gun purchasers. will the president directly address gun control in tonight's speech?

    >> i'm not going to preview what he's going to say specifically, but we'll have an empty seat in the chamber. congresswoman giffords has a long way to go. it is a reminder of how we have to work to bring down crime, to build an environment of civility where we can disagree without leading to violence and the president clearly has always stated that he supports the assault weapons ban . i don't want to get too much into the details of tonight, but certainly an empty seat in the house is a reminder for everyone, not just this evening but around the country.

    >> ms. jarrett, thanks for your time this morning.

    >> you're welcome, matt.

    >> you can watch live coverage of president obama 's state of the union tonight at 9:00 eastern/6:00 pacific time here on

Explainer: State of the union: by the numbers

  • After President Barack Obama's delivery of the annual State of the Union address to Congress, here is a look at some of the facts and figures that shape American life and how they have changed in the past decade (based on the latest available data, compiled from multiple sources).

  • Economy and Business

    Unemployed workers, January 2000: 4.0%
    Unemployed workers, January 2011: 9.4%

    Dow Industrial Average, Jan. 25, 2000:11,029
    Dow Industrial Average, Jan. 20, 2011:11,822

    U.S. federal debt, September 2000:$5,674,178,209,886
    U.S. federal debt, September 2010:$13,561,623,030,891

    Median new home price, January 2000: $163,500
    Median new home price, November 2010: $213,000

    Household income (top 5%), 2000:$252,400
    Household income (top 5%), 2009:$295,388

    Household income (bottom 5%), 2000:$10,157
    Household income (bottom 5%), 2009:$11,552

    Total U.S. population, 2000: 281,421,906
    Total U.S. population, 2010:308,745,538

    Number of U.S. millionaires, 2000:6.3 million
    Number of U.S. millionaires, 2010:7.8 million

    Price of admission to Forbes 400 list, 2000:$725 million
    Price of admission to Forbes 400 list, 2010:$1 billion

  • Politics

    Congressional approval, December 2000:55% approve; 30% disapprove     
    Congressional approval, September 2010:
    20% approve, 73% disapprove

    Confidence in national news media, December 2000:40% have little or no confidence
    Confidence in national news media, January 2011:42% have little or no confidence

    Confidence in the federal government, December 2000:19% have little or no confidence
    Confidence in the federal government, January 2010:
    35% have little or no confidence

    Hispanic/Latino electorate in 2000 election:7%
    Hispanic/Latino electorate in 2008 election:9%

    Women serving in Congress, 2000: 67
    Women serving in Congress, 2011: 93

    African-American members in U.S. Senate, 2000:0
    African-American members in U.S. Senate, 2011:0

  • Health

    Life expectancy at birth, 2000:76.8 years
    Life expectancy at birth, 2010:78.3 years, projected

    Number of uninsured Americans, 2000: 38.4 million
    Number of uninsured Americans, 2010:
    50.7 million

    Cancer deaths, all causes, 2000:553,091
    Cancer deaths, all causes, 2010:
    569,490

  • Travel

    Average price of a gallon of gas, 2000:$1.51/gallon
    Average price of a gallon of gas, 2011:
    $3.08/gallon

    Average airfare, 2000:$339
    Average airfare, 2011: $335 (through second quarter of 2010)

    First-bag fee, 2000: None
    First-bag fee, 2010:$20-25 (on most major U.S. carriers)

    Average hotel, 2000:$85.89/night
    Average hotel, 2011:$97.89/night (through September 2010)

    One-day ticket to Walt Disney World, 2000:$46
    One-day ticket to Walt Disney World, 2011:$82

  • Tech and Science

    Google searches per day, 2000: 30 million
    Google searches per day, 2011:
    Over 1 billion

    Wireless phone subscribers in U.S., 2000:97 million (34% of population)
    Wireless phone subscribers in U.S., 2011:293 million (93% of population)

    Facebook users, worldwide, 2000: 0
    Facebook users, worldwide, 2011:600 million

    Federal spending on research and development, 2000:$99 billion (actual spending)
    Federal spending on research and development, 2011:$148 billion (proposed)

    NASA science missions in operation, 2000: 38
    NASA science missions in operation, 2011:67

  • Education

    Public schools that require student uniforms, 1999-2000:12%
    Public schools that require student uniforms, 2007-2008:18%

    Public schools reporting the use of one or more security cameras, 1999-2000:19%
    Public schools reporting the use of one or more security cameras, 2007-2008:55%

    Nationwide graduation rates at public high schools, 2000-2001:71.7%
    Nationwide graduation rates at public high schools, 2007-2008:74.9%

    Average salary for public high school teachers, 1999-2000:$42,546
    Average salary for public high school teachers, 2008-2009:$53,724

    Minorities enrolled in 4-year institutions, 2000:1.5 million
    Minorities enrolled in 4-year institutions, 2007:1.8 million

    Average college tuition for 4-year private institutions, 1999-2000:$20,706
    Average college tuition for 4-year private institutions, 2009-2010:$26,273

    Science and math literacy (U.S. ranking on OECD PISA test given to 15-year-olds), 2000:14th in science, 19th in math
    Science and math literacy (U.S. ranking on OECD PISA test given to 15-year-olds), 2009:23rd in science, 31st in math

  • Sports

    Highest paid athletes (includes salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and appearance fees), 2000:Michael Schumacher, $59 million
    Highest paid athletes (includes salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and appearance fees), 2010:Tiger Woods, $105 million

    Cost of a Super Bowl ad, 2000:$2.1 million
    Cost of a Super Bowl ad, 2011:$3 million

    Rose Bowl payout (amount paid to each participating team), 2000:$12 million
    Rose Bowl payout (amount paid to each participating team), 2011:$21.2 million

    Average cost of an NFL ticket, 2000:$45.63
    Average cost of an NFL ticket, 2011:$76.47

  • Entertainment and Lifestyle

    Average movie ticket price, 2001: $5.66
    Average movie ticket price, 2011: $7.95

    Golden Globe winner for best picture, 2001:"A Beautiful Mind"
    Golden Globe winner for best picture, 2011:"The Social Network"

    Number of wide-release 3-D movies, 2001: 1
    Number of wide-released 3-D movies, 2011:30+

    Oprah Winfrey net worth, 2001:$800 million
    Oprah Winfrey net worth, 2011:$2.7 billion

    Number of children in the Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar family, 2001: 13
    Number of children in the Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar family, 2011: 19

    Most-watched TV show, 2001-2002:"Friends," 24.46 million average
    Most-watched TV show, 2010:"American Idol," 29.8 million average

    Highest-paid TV actor, 2001:Kelsey Grammer, $1.6 million per episode
    Highest-paid TV actor, 2011:Charlie Sheen, $1.25 million per episode

    Number of reality shows in Nielsen top 10, 2001: 2
    Number of reality shows in Nielsen top 10, 2010: 5

    Top-earning concert act, 2001:U2, estimated ticket sales $109.7 million
    Top-earning concert act, 2010:Bon Jovi, estimated ticket sales $201.1 million

    Average concert ticket price, 2001:$43.86
    Average concert ticket price, 2010:$55

    Popularity rank of the names "Malia" and "Sasha," 2000:498, 476
    Popularity rank of the names "Malia" and "Sasha," 2009:192, 261

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments