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National Politics|By Amy Walter, May 13, 2015

Every presidential election is a response to the current president, even when the current president isn’t seeking re-election. If people don't like the guy in the White House, it’s almost impossible for a member of his party to be elected to succeed him. Even when voters are happy with their incumbent president, it’s not always a guarantee of success for the party’s nominee. Voters are often looking for a change in style as much as substance (see: Bush v. Gore, 2000). This is why we should spend as much time checking in on President Obama’s job approval ratings as we do the polling data of the potential presidential candidates.

For Hillary Clinton to win, she needs Obama to succeed. Picking fights with the president – a la Elizabeth Warren – does her no good if it makes him look weak.

The magic number for Obama – and ultimately Hillary’s chances – is somewhere around 47 percent. If Obama’s job approval rating is above that, a Democrat has a decent to a good chance of winning in 2016. Below that number, especially if Obama is in the 45 percent range or below, it will be hard for a Democrat to gain entry to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

How Obama is perceived by voters in the presidential battleground states is more important than his overall national approval rating. Given that the fight for the Electoral College will come down to the results of seven to nine states, a national poll does us little good. The good folks at the Quinnipiac University Poll have been surveying many of these key swing states and I’ve incorporated their data into the accompanying chart.

In looking at data from five swing states (all of which Obama carried in 2012), Obama’s approval ratings are not only significantly below his pre-election showing in 2012, but they also fall below the political “Mendoza line”, with no state giving him better than a 45 percent job approval rating. One of the most surprising is Obama’s weak 40 percent approve to 56 percent disapprove in Pennsylvania, an important brick in the Democrats so-called “Blue Wall.”

State Obama Approve/Disapprove Late Oct. ‘12 Obama Approve/Disapprove Early April ‘15 Difference Between ‘12/’15 Obama Approve/Disapprove Rating
FL49/4841/55-7/+7
OH50/4742/54-8/+7
VA49/4945/53-4/+4
PA50/4840/56-10/+8
CO48/49*42/55-6/+6
* Marist Poll
Helpful disclaimer alert: we are working with a very small universe of data from April (one pollster and one poll) and there’s certainly a possibility that these numbers may be more outlier than reality. However, there are warning signs out here for Democrats and we should all watch these numbers very closely over the next year and a half. While a popular president can’t always ensure his party’s success in the next election, a weak one almost always ensures failure.