If only Obama had...
Before we completely despair, it’s important to note that Carter, Reagan and Clinton all had LOWER approval ratings at this stage of their Presidencies:
What if Obama had done not-X? Would things really be better for him? How do we know they wouldn't be worse?
Sadly, we can't hit rewind on the cosmic VCR and persuade Obama to do the other thing in the name of science. But we have had a number of presidents who did very different things, and that gives us some basis on which to make judgments. Let's start with approval ratings. Gallup's system will let me compare only four presidents at once, so I chose the last three presidents who entered office amid a recession and didn't have a country-unifying terrorist attack in their first year. That gives us Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. The dashed line is an average of all recent presidents.
Obama's current approval rating of 44 percent beats Clinton, Carter and Reagan. All of them were between 39 percent and 41 percent at this point in their presidencies. And all of them were former governors who accomplished less legislatively than Obama has at this point in his presidency.
If only Obama had ...