Just two months ago, President Obama was reeling from his party’s massive defeat in the midterm elections. He faced a number of critical legislative decisions, his approval numbers plummeted to the lowest levels of his presidency, and pundits began speculating whether he could survive a primary challenge in 2012.
Yet now, it seems like everything is coming up in Obama’s favor. Buoyed by a surging approval rating, an improved economic outlook, and some popular legislative achievements, Obama is suddenly back on top.Obama closed out 2010 by signing a raft of popular bills — including a compromise to extend tax breaks for all Americans and a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Soon after, his record low approval numbers quickly changed course. In late December, Gallup pegged his approval rating at 50%, the first time he’d hit that threshold since May 2010.
Other polls showed him peaking even higher.
A CNN poll found the President with a 55% approval rating, his highest mark in that poll since November 2009. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey had his approval slightly lower at 53%, but you have to go back even further, to July 2009, to find the previous time Obama’s approval reached that mark in that poll. Even Rasmussen’s polls, which typically give the President his lowest marks, showed him topping the 50% threshold this month–for five straight days.
And for all the talk among some pundits about Obama heading toward a one-and-done presidency, his 50% approval rating at the halfway mark of his term is better than Bill Clinton’s 47%, and much higher than Reagan’s 37%, according to Gallup.
Perhaps contributing to Obama’s rising approval rating is a simultaneous spike in Americans’ confidence in the economy. A CNN poll released this week found Americans more optimistic about the economy than they had been in more than four years. A recent Pew poll also found that fewer Americans were hearing “mostly bad” economic news than at any time since early 2008 when Pew began polling the question.
The President’s response to the Tucson shooting may also have given him a boost, especially as it was juxtaposed against the response of a prominent political rival, Sarah Palin. An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted after the attack found that only 30% of Americans approved of Palin’s response–in an online video she struck a combative tone and accused her critics of “blood libel” for linking her to the event. Meanwhile, 78% of Americans thought Obama, who delivered an emotional memorial speech in which he called for unity and civility, had responded well to the tragedy.
Another bright spot for Obama in the new year is that support for repealing his signature legislative accomplishment, the health care overhaul, is finally ebbing. Republicans seized on their midterm victory as proof that the nation wanted them to repeal “Obamacare.” Yet polls have shown enthusiasm for repealing the law drying up since the first provisions went into effect January 1.
Check out the trend lines from the TPM PollTracker:
Some polls this month have found that a plurality of Americans actually want to keep the law, like a CBS survey in which 48% of respondents said the law should remain in place, while only about one in five wanted to see the whole thing thrown out. What’s more, both a Marist and an AP/GFK poll found that a plurality of Americans even wanted to expand the law.
Obama is doing so well lately that, despite the midterm shellacking and the notion that it was a referendum on the President, Americans would rather see the country go in the direction Obama wants than in the direction Congressional Republicans want. An ABC/Washington Post poll found that Americans wanted to see Obama rather than Republicans take the lead by a 44% to 35% split. That finding was supported by a PPP poll in which 48% of respondents said they had more faith in Obama to lead the nation, versus 44% who said they were more confident in Republicans.
That PPP poll had other great news for the President, as it showed him improving his lead on several frontrunners for the GOP presidential nomination in hypothetical 2012 matchups. In December, Obama led Mitt Romney by just one point nationally, though he now leads by five points, 48% to 43%. His lead on Mike Huckabee grew from three to five points over the same period, while he pulled away from Palin to lead that contest by 17 points, 55% to 38%.
Given the President’s recent good fortune, it looks like Christmas came late for him. While the string of good news won’t go on unbroken, Obama is at least riding high as he begins the second half of his first term.