Buoyed by his strong personal appeal, history suggests President Barack Obama is in for a long and enjoyable honeymoon. Civic eras, like the one that began with the President's election last November, start when a generation such as today’s young Millennials (born 1982-2003) enters the electorate with an overwhelming preference for one party’s presidential candidate and his policy agenda. This solid endorsement by an emerging generation causes the President’s popularity to go up or remain stable at a high level, not down, in a civic era as the newly elected candidate takes steps to implement his campaign pledges.
For example, Franklin Roosevelt, who kicked off America's last previous civic era in 1932, never really did see an end to his honeymoon in terms of decreasing popularity, at least not until well into his second term. FDR's Democrats even gained seats in both the House and Senate in 1934, the only time in U.S. history that the party of a newly elected president has ever gained seats in the mid-term elections that followed his winning the presidency. And, Roosevelt won reelection to a second term in 1936 by an even larger margin than he did in 1932.
President Obama's approval score at this point in his presidency is higher than for any president since Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, two presidents who served toward the end of the last civic era in American history, a period that ended with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968. In civic eras, Americans have much more positive attitudes toward political institutions and leaders than in politically divided and gridlocked idealist eras such as the Baby Boomer-dominated one we just left. In civic eras, the public wants and expects governmental action. By contrast, in idealist eras, like the one the country just left, Presidential approval ratings tend to fall fairly quickly in a President's term, signaling the end of the honeymoon. This happens as soon as the President begins to take action that is bound to offend at least one half of the divided electorate.
But, led by the Millennial Generation, today’s electorate is anything but divided. Millennials voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a 66% to 32% margin. Seven in ten Millennials currently approve of his performance as President and more than 80% have favorable attitudes toward him as an individual.
Polling conducted throughout the first 100-days of the Obama administration indicates that as the Republican Party has almost unanimously resisted the President's initiatives, voter attitudes toward the GOP have become ever more unfavorable. Currently less than 10% of Millennials hold favorable attitudes toward the GOP and Congressional Republicans. For the moment at least, Republicans have ceased to be a viable alternative to the President among all voters but a relative handful of conservatives.
This puts the onus squarely on the President's fellow Democrats in Congress. As long as they support Obama’s blueprint for change, he should continue to accomplish big things, which will only have the effect of reinforcing, not decreasing, his popularity. While many inside the beltway may not recognize that we have entered a new era in American politics, both the President and the public do. Barack Obama should have the popularity to prove it for some time to come.