Why Did Obama’s Approval Polls Rise Leading Up to the SOTU?

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Win McNamee/Getty Images

With the State of the Union happening this week, now is a truly opportune time for President Barack Obama’s approval polls to be peaking their little heads above the ground. They’re still skitish; this may be a short-lived emergence, but even so, his stagnant and dozing ratings might be making a comeback for the moment. Of course, not all polls agree, but then, they rarely do. RealClearPolitics, while sometimes an excellent way to gauge a more general or neutral view, has him at an average rating of 44.7% approval between January 3 and January 20.

That poll’s data set is somewhat old, across a fairly long stretch of time. The two most recent polls included are higher than the older ones, and the average is missing a number of key publications not included in its average. The two most recent polls, Gallup and Rasmussen Reports, both polled between January 17 and January 19, and reported approval of 45% and 48% respectively. The lowest poll comes from a Reuters poll conducted by Ipsos between January 10-14, 2015, putting Obama’s approval at 37%. The poll had a 4.4 percentage point credibility interval for Republicans, a 4.4 interval for Democrats, a 7.4 point interval for independents, and an average adult credibility interval of give or take 2.7 percentage points.

The Washington Post/ABC poll not included in the average was taken between January 12 and 15, and has Obama’s approval up at 50%. The margin of error is given as 3.5 percentage points. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Obama with a 45% total positive rating with a margin of error at 3.46 percentage points. The poll was taken between January 14 and January 17, 2015. Now that we’ve clarified the data which suggests his approval ratings have modestly improved, though it’s admittedly a light increase, let’s look at what could be causing that inflation.

State of the Union

For one thing, the State of the Union is upcoming, and there’s been a great deal of press on “SOTU spoilers” as well as the releases themselves from the White House. Obama has also been making a number of public appearances in preparation for his annual speech, basically some light campaigning in favor of his new policy plan.

He’s had a great deal of press and time in the headlines recently as a result. It doesn’t hurt that the policy he’s pushing and speaking on appeals to a broad group of people. Tax reform runs the gambit between college aged Americans, working parents, poor, middle class, and so on. His desire to offer two years of college education for free has also had a great deal of attention recently, and while it got a fair amount of negative reactions from Republicans, it could have helped elevate his polling numbers.

Gas prices

It’s unlikely to have gone unnoticed by any but the bikers among us that gas prices across the nation are very low, and have been for some time now. Some Americans probably can’t remember the last time gas dropped below $2 a gallon, and despite Republicans’ warnings against over-eager praise of the low prices, many Americans will just notice the smaller dent in their wallet when they fill up for work in the morning. Whether or not he deserves the credit or the low prices will last has been heavily debated, but for once even a bad headline isn’t bad press. Arguing that, actually, Obama isn’t to thank for the low gas prices automatically suggests to the reader that some believe he is. On top of that, job markets and the economy in general really are improving steadily, and have been for some time.

Midterms are over

With the midterm election came more than just an onslaught of campaigns and attack ads against contenders and PACs; Obama took a great deal of the abuse. It made strategic sense for many Republican senators and representatives to attack either Republican opponents for being to similar to Democrats, or Democratic opponents for sympathizing with Obama. Disagreeing with Obama and shooting up paper copies of his signature health care law were easy targets (quite literally).

So with the end of the midterms comes two things: First, it means he no longer has quite as direct a target on his back. No one is paying a ridiculous sum of money to attack his policy repeatedly in a TV-broadcast ad. It also means that Republicans have had a chance to begin succeeding and failing with the majority in the legislature, bearing the brunt of this responsibility, meaning some voters may be feeling frustrated with Republicans once again.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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