How Obama's poll numbers compare to past presidents

Obama in the foreground with Clinton, Reagan and George W. Bush

President Barack Obama's overall job approval rating was down to just 43 percent in the latest CBS News/New York Times Poll, his lowest rating so far. Even more, 50 percent disapprove.

And while he retains the support of most Democrats, he has lost the support of independents, 54 percent of whom disapprove of the job he is doing. No doubt the poor economy - 86 percent say it is in bad shape -- has kept Mr. Obama's job approval ratings low.

Obama's approval rating drops to all-time low; Public split on jobs plan

Previous modern presidents who have been re-elected to second terms have also held office during bad economies. President Ronald Reagan faced an unemployment rate of over 9 percent in 1983 - similar to the current jobless rate - and his 46 percent job approval rating at this point in his presidency was similar to that of President Obama now. In 1995, President Bill Clinton's approval rating was 43 percent.

Others have lost their bids for re-election. In September 1991, President George H. W. Bush received a very high 70 percent approval rating, but that was a reflection of the public's approval of the successful Persian Gulf War earlier in the year. Throughout 1992, his approval ratings fell precipitously, to just 31 percent in July. And Jimmy Carter, another president who faced tough economic conditions, received an approval rating in the fall 1979 of just 31 percent.

More specifically, Mr. Obama's approval rating on handling the economy - which the public has long named the top problem facing the country - is particularly low, at just 34 percent. And although 38 percent of Americans are very concerned they or someone else in their household may lose a job in the next year (up seven points in the last few months), only 40 percent approve of how he is handling job creation.

Other presidents have received worse evaluations on their handling of the economy. President George H.W. Bush received a 14 percent approval rating on the economy in August 1992, and President George W. Bush received just 16 percent approval in late 2008. But assessments of President Obama on this measure are lower than they were for Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan at this point in their respective presidencies.

One of the challenges facing President Obama is the public's perception that economic conditions are not improving. Forty-three percent think the economy is getting worse, and just 12 percent think it is getting better. More than half the public thinks the country is heading toward or already in another recession.

Both Bill Clinton's and Ronald Reagan's approval ratings on handling the economy improved during the year before their re-election. Bill Clinton's approval rating on the economy rose to 55 percent just before his re-election, and between September 1983 and January 1984 Ronald Reagan's approval rating on the economy rose from 44 percent to 55 percent, and remained in the mid-50s throughout 1984.

But that was not the case for two presidents who were not successful in their re-election bids, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. Both of those one term presidents had sustained low approval ratings on handling the economy before losing re-election.

Mr. Obama's approval rating on the economy has dropped in the past year, from 41 percent in January 2010. His re-election prospects may be affected by where that rating - and the public's perceptions of the economy - go from here over the next year.

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    Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys.