A new Washington Post/ABC News poll puts President Barack Obama’s approval rating back at 50% for the first time in nearly two years.
The news comes a day before Obama is scheduled to deliver his annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, a speech in which he is expected to focus largely on helping the middle class share in growing economic prosperity.
It’s an important policy discussion because the 2016 presidential campaign seems to already be focusing on issues of income inequality and a feeling of being “left behind” despite an improving economy. According to the Post-ABC poll, just under half (48%) of respondents approve of Obama’s handling of the economy (but an identical 48% disapprove).
Part of the sharp uptick in Obama’s approval rating – the Washington Post/ABC News poll has him up nine points since December – is likely due to increasingly positive economic news. Last year ended on a high note, with GDP growth up, unemployment down, gas prices crashing, and the stock market hitting new highs. The new poll included 41% of its respondents saying the economy was doing well, a 14-point jump since October.
The Post’s Aaron Blake points out that the largest gains in Obama approval come among Democrats, self-described moderates, Hispanics, those under 30, and (somewhat surprisingly) white evangelical Christians.
But while his overall approval numbers are strong and he has an edge on helping the middle class (45% to 37% said Obama’s ideas were better than those of Republicans in Congress), his opponents could also find some solace in the poll data. A plurality (44%) said the GOP “has better ideas about encouraging economic development” (38% said that about Obama, while 9% said neither). And the poll respondents were split on who they believed “is taking a stronger leadership role.”
But of the 91% who said government dysfunction was a problem, a 61% placed the blame on both parties (18% said Obama and the Democrats, while 20% said the Republicans).
Interestingly, even though that dysfunction is looked upon with disdain, those who responded to the poll were also split on whether Obama should use executive actions to get past congressional inaction. An even half said he would be justified doing so, but 49% also said Republicans would be justified in trying to stop him.
The poll did indicate strong support for Obama’s education intiatives, with over half saying the president’s plan to provide two years of community college tuition-free was a good idea. And most of those asked also agreed with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employees who work at least 30 hours should be provided health care coverage, and said it should remain as-is rather than change to 40 hours.
Obama’s stance on the Keystone XL oil pipeline also drew broad support, with 61% saying a government review should be completed prior to any decision. But 56% said that his immigration action announced last November, deferring deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants, should be blocked by Republicans in Congress. That decision, however almost certainly helped drive the big 22-point jump in Hispanic approval, which in turn helped push his overall rating back to 50%.
As the New York Times’ Nate Cohn points out, Obama’s approval rating will be important to watch heading into 2016: should the economy continue to rebound, presidential approval will likely follow suit, and along with it the Democratic candidate’s chances of winning the White House.