On the day of President Obama's final State of the Union address, 45% of registered voters approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, according to a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Online Election Tracking Poll conducted Jan. 4 to Jan. 10. The aggregate number, however, hides the fact that different groups of voters vary widely in how they evaluate the president.
Specifically, we find interesting differences exist both by partisanship and also, perhaps unexpectedly, within parties. In particular, Republicans' approval levels differ according to age and vary with whom they support in the Republican primary.
Among all registered voters, younger individuals tend to approve of Obama's job performance. Over 60% of individuals 18-24 and 25-34 approve of the way he is doing his job. Those 35-44 year olds are slightly more disapproving than approving (51% vs. 48%), and disapproval levels increase to around 60% for older age groups.
As one might expect, individuals' partisanship also creates sharp differences in job approval. Obama's approval rate among Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents is high, coming in at nearly 90%. In contrast, about 92% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents disapprove. More interestingly, Republicans feel quite strongly about this. The survey asked individuals whether they strongly or somewhat approved or disapproved of Obama's job performance. Given these options, 79% of Republicans strongly disapproved.
Combining partisanship and age shows some interesting variation among Republicans, but not much for Democrats. These data are presented in the first figure below. It takes partisans and Independent leaners, separates them out by age group, and graphs how intensely each group approves or disapproves of Obama's job performance. Each pair of stacked bars focuses on one age group and plots Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right.
Among Democrats, Obama's overall approval rate doesn't vary much by age (e.g. 92% approval for 18-24 year olds vs. 89% for those 65 or older). However, some variation exists by intensity. The dark blue bars show older Democrats are more likely to strongly approve of Obama's performance. While only 44% of 18-24 year-old Democrats strongly approve, 53% of Democrats 65 and older do so.
There are larger differences among Republicans. Younger Republicans disapprove of Obama somewhat less than older Republicans (e.g. 87% of 18-24 year-olds disapprove vs. 95% for those 65 or older). The major difference comes from intensity. Like older Democrats, older Republicans feel more strongly, however in the opposite direction. The light red bars show that while only 62% of young Republicans - those 18-24 years old - strongly disapprove, this increases by 25 percentage points to 87% for Republicans 65 and older.
Differences in the intensity of Republican disapproval of the president are also evident when examining how the intensity of disapproval varies depending upon which candidate the Republican respondent currently supports in the primary. Republicans backing more establishment-type candidates like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie overwhelmingly disapprove of Obama's performance in office, but they are less likely to feel intensely about this than those supporting Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. As the following figure makes clear, while 51% of Bush's supporters and 66% of Christie's supporters strongly disapprove of Obama's job performance the percentage who strongly disapprove among Trump, Cruz, and Rubio supporters are 85%, 90%, and 77% respectively.
We typically focus on the binary case of whether someone approves or disapproves of a politician without also considering the intensity of the approval that is expressed. Accounting for the intensity of approval and disapproval is important, however, because it provides a more nuanced account of political opinions. In particular, while Republican disapproval of the job President Obama is doing is pervasive, important differences emerge in the severity of the disapproval. Older Republicans are far more severe in their assessment than younger Republicans, as are Republicans supporting the current front-runners in the Republican primary.
Hannah Hartig and Sam Petulla contributed to this article.
This SurveyMonkey Election Tracking data for the week of January 4, 2016 through January 10, 2016 was conducted online among a national sample of 9,746 adults aged 18 and over, including 8,655 who say they are registered to vote.
For full results and methodology for this weekly tracking poll, please click here.