The two factors that might be most vital to Hillary Clinton’s chances—the identity of the eventual Republican nominee and the standing of President Obama—are elements over which she has little influence. It’s the second factor, Obama’s job approval rating, that is especially critical. And the state and national polling numbers present a contradictory story.
By our count, so far in 2015 (as of April 13) there have been 52 polls in 21 states that have reported approval and disapproval numbers for Obama. We analyzed those polls and found that, in the majority of them, Obama’s approval rating is worse than one might expect, given his national standing. This underperformance appears more pronounced in states with heavily white populations—including key swing states Iowa and New Hampshire.
Before we explore the inconsistent numbers, it’s worth asking why the job approval rating of a man who isn’t on the ballot matters so greatly for 2016.