The recent focus on 2016 polling is easy to understand: two competitive presidential primaries are underway, and the first round of voting begins next week. But away from the spotlight, it's interesting to see President Obama's support growing, even as a giant GOP field spends every day condemning him.
The Washington Post reported this week:
President Obama's job-approval rating has rebounded into positive territory, boosted by improving assessments of his handling of the nation's economy since 2012 and thawing ratings on handling the terrorist threat, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Fifty percent of Americans approve of Obama's overall job performance in the new poll, similar to 51 percent in October. While barely positive, Obama's marks are up slightly from 45 and 46 percent in the past two months.... Fully 50 percent approve of his handling of the economy, while 46 percent disapprove, the best margin in Post-ABC polls since 2009.
Looking a little closer at the data, the 50% approval rating is actually a combined total of those who "strongly" approve of the president's job performance and those who "somewhat" approve. In this case, note that 31% now say they "strongly approve" -- and that's the highest total Obama has seen in nearly three years.
FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver added yesterday that the latest RealClearPolitics average shows the president's support reaching its highest point since June 2013. It could be a temporary blip, of course, but Nate added, "Maybe Obama looks a little better in comparison to the unpopular set of candidates they've been seeing and hearing so much from lately."
And at the risk of making the president's detractors feel a little worse, let's also note that Gallup shows Obama's standing, when compared to Ronald Reagan's standing at this point in his presidency, is practically identical.
Following up on similar survey data we discussed several months ago, I suspect Obama's improved standing will come as a surprise to congressional Republicans -- and the GOP presidential field -- who seem certain that the American mainstream are outraged by the Iran nuclear deal, the Affordable Care Act, Syria, immigration, and a variety of other perceived missteps, each of which aren't actually missteps at all.
I'm not unsympathetic to the argument that Obama's approval rating is irrelevant, since he obviously can't seek another term. This might have some effect on historians' perspective when the president's legacy is being debated, but it's understandable that much of the political world would be far more interested in the latest results from Iowa and New Hampshire.
But don't be too quick to dismiss the significance of Obama's support. He won't literally be on the ballot, but there's little doubt the president's standing will have a real impact on the public's appetite -- or lack thereof -- for radical change in 2017 and beyond.