Why the Rise in Obama’s Approval, and Is He in for Another Boost?

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A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows good news for President Barack Obama on the public relations front. An increase in his job rating lines him up more closely with President Ronald Reagan than President George W. Bush, at 47% job approval during his seventh year, compared to Reagan’s 49% and Bush’s 33%.

President Bill Clinton soared above that, with 63%, but the point stands: Obama’s approval is not at the serious low it has been in the past. And with recent threats of another government shutdown over a budgetary standoff in Congress, his lot may only be getting better. Obama’s approval rating has gone up a solid five percentage points since the 42% seen in December. This is a particularly significant rise given the fact that his job ratings went up so little over the course of 2014.

Why the rise in public opinion now?

What could explain this small spike in public perception? It’s important to note that different polls put Obama’s job approval at different places, and none of them are perfectly objective. RealClearPolitics puts its average at 45%, combining polling data from Gallup, Reuters, Rasmussen Reports, CBS, CNN, Fox, and The Economist during February. This is a slightly more balanced combined view, but even so, the rise may be temporary. However, there are a couple of explanations for the rise that make sense.

Midterms and Congress today

For one thing, midterm elections are over. That means two things. First, it means that there is no longer the anti-Obama ad coverage we were seeing during the elections. It also means that Republicans have majorities in both the House and Senate, which allows Obama to push a great deal of blame onto Republicans for not passing legislation. Compared to both Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress, respondents’ sentiment toward Obama is slightly better, with 49% telling Pew that they have either a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in his leadership on the economy. This is compared to Democrat leaders’ 43% and Republican leaders’ 37%.

Economic confidence on the rise

There’s also the matter of the economy, which the Pew Research Center reports is looking up based on public opinion, with 27% saying economic conditions are either good or excellent, an 11-point increase over last year’s 16%. Considerably fewer respondents consider conditions to be poor compared to last year, dropping from 39% to 24% between 2014 and 2015. Those saying the economic improvement has been “only fair” changed little from last year, rising three percentage points from 45% to 48%.

A poll by the Associated Press and GFK shows that there’s also a solid backing for aspects of Obama’s proposed tax reform, with 56% of those polled saying that those making more than $500,000 per year should take a bigger hit on capital gains taxes, and that the rich do not pay their fair share of federal taxes. However, there were also a few aspects of Obama’s policy that did not gain a majority of respondents’ support — in particular, inheritance taxes.

Gas prices and lawsuits

The significant decrease in gas prices has also likely helped public sentiment toward Obama, as have attacks on Republicans and increased rhetoric about his economic successes. The current lawsuit-heavy atmosphere in Washington works both against and for Obama. It draws attention to issues that Republicans often attack him for and which remain divisive among Americans, while also making the GOP appear unfocused on issues desperately in need of legislation. The back-and-forth over executive action fails to account for needed solutions.

Exiting the White House

Finally, Obama is on his way out, though he still has some time before 2016 hits. A president out of office is almost always remembered more fondly, as the younger Bush is proof of in numerous polls and retrospectives. The discussion on presidential prospects and Obama’s replacement has a way of making his leadership seem more removed and thus, slightly less present.

Still room for a drop

Of course, this could all change for the worse, as well. While a government shutdown will likely make Congress and the GOP appear worse in comparison with Obama’s leadership, the president’s actions on a number of important issues — including his recent veto of the Keystone XL pipeline — will draw a great deal of ire from certain areas and sectors of the United States.

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