Political observers who want to know who's doing well in the 2016 presidential race have plenty of data to review: national polling, polling in the early nominating states, candidates' favorability ratings, etc.
But it's important to remember that the popularity of the current president will have a meaningful effect on which party wins the White House next year, and at this point, President Obama's improved standing offers Democrats some welcome news.
More than half of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of Barack Obama’s job performance, a first in nearly two and a half years. That compares with 71 percent disapproval of the Republicans in Congress, with six in 10 calling their struggle to select a new House speaker a sign of dysfunction within the GOP caucus. Likely boosted by improving economic sentiment, Obama’s job approval rating has gained 6 percentage points since July to 51 percent, a level he hasn’t seen since May 2013. That’s up 11 points from his career low a year ago.
All of the usual caveats apply, of course. This is just one poll, and most of the tracking surveys show the president's support a few points lower -- Gallup, for example, put Obama's approval at 47% in today's report.
Still, given the broader political conditions, the fact that the president has climbed above 50% in any major, independent poll is heartening news at the White House. It's also likely a surprise to congressional Republicans, who've spent the last few months insisting "the American people" are furious with Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, the Affordable Care Act, Syria, immigration, and a variety of other perceived missteps.
If the Washington Post/ABC News poll is accurate, it would appear GOP assumptions are wildly out of step with mainstream American attitudes.
Indeed, while Democrats in Congress aren't winning any popularity contests -- their approval rating is just 35% nationwide -- it's congressional Republicans that are really unpopular. Today's results put congressional Republicans approval at a woeful 24%.
In other words, the GOP lawmakers going after the president are less than half as popular as the guy they're condemning.
As for the bigger picture, it's tempting to think Obama's approval rating is irrelevant, since he obviously can't seek another term. But for political insiders, this is a metric worth watching closely, since the president's standing will have a real impact on the public appetite -- or lack thereof -- for radical change from the status quo.