Comparing Obama's First Six Months

With a new president, it’s easy to indulge in superlatives: Barack Obama has been said to have the highest approval ratings, but the worst fiscal situation on his hands. A new report from the Brookings Institution, however, adds a little nuance to the picture. Called “How We’re Doing,” it stacks Obama’s first six months against his five most recent predecessors to give an overall view of the world Obama inherited; our opinions of him; and how they compare with presidents past.

First things first: while Obama is popular, his ratings have been slipping. Even at his July level of 60 percent approval, he was still slightly behind Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in their first six months. But he has the highest lead over the opposition—65 points, more than twice Carter’s and more than that of George W. Bush, who was coming off the nasty 2000 election.

There are other first-year “worsts”: most U.S. troops dead, worst GDP contraction, highest unemployment, and lowest consumer confidence. Still, it’s not all bad—the savings rate is back up from an all-time abyss under Dubya, and inflation and mortgage interests are at three-decade lows. Not the best of first years, not the worst; right now, Obama’s is just about average.