Barack Obama: The Comeback Kid?

After a fairly bad 2010, Barack Obama is starting off 2011 in a very good position.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll seems to suggest that President Obama has turned a corner, and that the newly installed Republicans in Washington need to tread lightly as they try to enact their agenda:

President Barack Obama is riding a surge of public support into next week’s State of the Union address, with more Americans approving of his performance and more seeing him as a political moderate, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

(…)

In the survey, 53% said they approved of the job Mr. Obama is doing as president, up eight percentage points from December. Forty-one percent said they disapprove of the president’s performance, down from 48% last month. The poll surveyed 1,000 adults from Jan. 13-17.

Among political independents, positive views of Mr. Obama’s job performance surpassed negative views for the first time since August 2009. For the first time in a year, the president drew a positive reaction from white adults, when asked about their feelings toward Mr. Obama.

The poll was conducted days after a shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz., in which six people died and 14 were injured, including Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic congresswoman from the state.

These numbers seem to be corroborated by the RealClearPolitics average which shows a definite trend in the President’s favor over the past several months:

It seems apparent that we’re seeing the result of several events here, all of which have given the President the opportunity to, well, be more Presidential. First, of course, there’s the overwhelmingly positive public reaction to his response to the Arizona shootings. It may be crass to say that President’s benefit from tragedies but, when the event allows a President to act as “national unifier” it almost ways inures to their benefit (just as George H.W. Bush during the Gulf War, Bill Clinton after Oklahoma City, or George W. Bush after 9/11). Gains of this nature can be fleeting, of course, (again, just against Presidents Bush 41/43 and Clinton) but the fact that this bounce is occurring just before the State of the Union Address suggests that it may be sustainable. Second, there’s the rather surprising success of December’s lame duck session, which was very well-received by the public, especially the tax cut extension deal which many voters seemed to welcome as a sign of bipartisanship. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, there is a level of optimism that we haven’t seen in a while:

— 40 percent believe the U.S. economy will improve in the next 12 months, up eight points from December;

— 53 percent think the United States will be better off five years from now, which is up 16 points from last August;

Additionally, the NBC poll showed that the bellwether “right track/wrong track” poll question had shown a seven point drop from just last month, a change which is also reflected in the RealClearPolitics average:

The public is feeling more optimistic, and that is helping raise the President’s approval numbers. If that continues as we go through 2011 and into 2012, Barack Obama could be in a far better position on Election Day than anyone thought possible two months ago when his party suffered historic mid-term losses.

Which leads us to the final message of the poll, and potential warning signs for the new House Republican majority:

Just 25 percent say that the Republicans in Congress will bring “the right kind of change” to the country. That’s compared with 42 percent who said that after Democrats took over the House in 2007, and 37 percent who said that after Republicans gained control in 1995.

In addition, a majority (55 percent) believe congressional Republicans will be too inflexible in dealing with President Obama, while an equal number (55 percent) say Obama will strike the right balance.

On House Republicans’ goal to repeal Obama’s health care law — an effort that cleared the chamber on Wednesday — 45 percent support eliminating the law and 46 percent oppose the GOP effort.

And attitudes about the Republican Party have declined, with 34 percent viewing the GOP positively and 40 percent negatively — down from its 38-37 percent favorable/unfavorable rating last month.

By comparison, the Democratic Party’s fav/unfav in the current poll is 39-35 percent, up from its 37-41 percents score from last month.

“I think this has been a pretty short Republican honeymoon,” McInturff says.

Perhaps, perhaps not. It has, after all, only been two weeks since the GOP took control of the House and one of those weeks House business was essentially on hold due to the shootings in Arizona. Nonetheless, poll numbers like this, which have been replicated elsewhere, suggest that the GOP will need to be careful in choosing between appealing to it’s base and governing in a way that the general electorate is happy with. Whether it makes sense or not, the American people want a divided government to find a way to work together and, while that may not be possible in the current political climate, the party that is going to suffer if it doesn’t is the one that appears to be more instransigent.

So, is Barack Obama a Comeback Kid as I ask in the post title ? It’s too early to tell, but he seems well on the way. I’d watch the public reaction to the State of the Union very carefully.

UPDATE (James Joyner): For commenters looking for sampling bias, the MSNBC/WSJ poll isn’t your best bet.  It’s conducted jointly by two of the best survey research firms in the business, including the one my wife works for.  Bill McInturff is a Republican who’s polled for top GOP candidates at every level, including John McCain’s 2008 race.  Peter Hart is a Democrat of similar stature.  They know what they’re doing and have zero incentive to bias the poll.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Politicians, Sarah Palin, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Terrye says:

    I do think Obama got a bounce after the killings in Tucson. Too bad people had to die to help the guy out. But I saw an interesting post up at Hot Air by Ed Morrisey and I think this is the same poll he was talking about. He said that only 21% of the people in the poll were Republicans. In other words, they oversampled Democrats and Independents and the poll was not of voters, but of all adults. So yes, I think Obama got a bounce, but I am not sure how long it will last.

    Not long I hope.

    As for the State of the Union address, how many people even watch those things? Most people do not care about stuff like that. They care about what is happening right at that moment.

  2. Terrye

    If it were only this poll showing a bounce then I’d think the sampling issue (which shouldn’t be discounted of course) was the reason. However, its been replicated in a number of polls recently. So, there is something going on. Whether it lasts is another question

  3. Terrye says:

    Also, only 29% said they voted for McCain…42% said they voted for Obama. Come on, this is ridiculous. Is it so difficult to get a decent sample? I do think Obama is doing better since Pelosi was sent packing, but I also think that there is a desire on the part of media polsters to make him look better.

  4. mantis says:

    As for the State of the Union address, how many people even watch those things?

    Well, in 2010, 48 million people watched the State of the Union speech on TV, and more watched it on the internet and PBS, which Nielsen doesn’t measure.

    Most people do not care about stuff like that. They care about what is happening right at that moment.

    Most Americans don’t care about the future of our country? I disagree.

  5. Terrye says:

    I think most Americans do care about the future of the country, they just do not think that the State of the Union has much to do with that. I read something interesting about the SOTU…Coolidge used to have his secretary read it to the Congress…the idea of the whole country tuning in watching politicians applaud each other for 2 hours is relatively recent. After all, for years there was no TV..absent TV there was no drama.

    I will not be watching Obama. I can read about it later.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    Terreye,

    Look at the real clear politics average. This has nothing to do with one poll. His aggregate favorability ratings across all polls has been leveling out, then rising, for quite awhile. Why do you keep harping on about samplings? Or are you implying that every single poll has a sampling error in favor of democrats? If so…you’re delusional.

  7. Terrye says:

    Neil:

    I am not delusional. I stated several times that I thought Obama had gotten a bounce and that there was a trend up for him..I am just pointing out that doing a poll with only 21% Republican in a country where both Gallup and Rasmussen have the parties at parity levels is not a realistic sampling of the voting public. 19% of the respondents in the poll did not even vote in 2008 and 42% voted for Obama, compared to 29% that voted for McCain.

    That sucks. The truth is I think Obama is about 50/50 and that is an improvement over a month ago.

  8. Neil Hudelson says:

    Its true that delivering the state of the union live to the congress–let alone on television–is a new phenomenon, but the idea that a notoriously shy president delivered his state by a written note 80 years ago somehow means that people today don’t watch or don’t care about the state is a foolish one. A strong state of the union gives a bump in the polls. Even if one doesn’t watch it that night, for the next 7 days analysis of it will be on every news outlet, influencing voters.

    What he says may not influence you but that doesn’t mean its not influential. I doubt any speech of his could influence you (and to be fair the same could be said about me re: Bush). That’s the nature of people with strongly developed political beliefs. However, most of the country isn’t like you or I in this regard.

  9. mantis says:

    After all, for years there was no TV..absent TV there was no drama.

    Drama didn’t exist before TV? Bill Shakespeare disagrees.

  10. Terrye says:

    mantis:

    Oh yes, drama existed before TV, but the American people did not watch the SOTU. It was a pretty dull affair back then. Now, there is an audience to impress. Hence no drama.

    I think some people feel like it is their duty to watch, but I just find it tedious with all the clapping and lying and grandstanding and preening and posturing and finger pointing.

  11. Neil Hudelson says:

    Atheist,

    And the poll average showing him on an upward trend? Your response to that?

    *crickets*

  12. An Interested Party says:

    “Too bad people had to die to help the guy out.”

    Indeed, just like after 9/11…

  13. Terrye says:

    An Interested Party:

    Well after 9/11 I don’t remember the Republicans trying to blame Al Gore for the terrorist attack. And the truth is Obama made a point of trying not to sound like most of the rest of his own party after the events in Tucson..if he had come out there and said the kind of stuff we heard a lot of other Democrats saying after the shootings, his numbers would be looking a lot different right now.

    Like I said, I think there probably is a bounce, I just think the polsters are exaggerating it. And these things are very fluid anyway.

  14. Terrye says:

    atheist:

    I think they are giving him about 5 points…if they could get away with giving him more, they would.

  15. PJ says:

    “… and RAS doesn’t use a D+10 sampling advantage like all the MSM polls use.”

    “Bottom line – 45% these days”

    RAS is doing their poll based on who they think are going to vote in the next election. That’s almost 2 (TWO) years from now.

    Great way to get the results they want though…

  16. mantis says:

    How did Rasmussen perform in the 2010 election? Oh, that’s right. Dismally, full of bias and inaccuracy. The worst performance among all the major pollsters.

    Scott Rasmussen tells wingnuts what they want to hear, reality be damned, and they can’t get enough.

  17. PJ says:

    I hope you had some point?

  18. mantis says:

    PJ,

    In case you haven’t noticed, there’s really no point in responding to cut & paste wingnut bots like Master Misspelling there, except to poke fun at them. They never have a point, except the ones on top their heads, and they are impervious to facts, reason, and more generally, reality.

  19. Tano says:

    “Barack Obama could be in a far better position on Election Day than anyone thought possible two months ago”

    Oh c’mon Doug. You really think that, two months ago, NO ONE thought it even POSSIBLE that Obama could be in a far better position on Election Day? That is ridiculous.

    I certainly thought it possible, as did, I imagine, anyone who knows anything about political dynamics. Especially Republicans, given that your hero, Mr. Reagan, at this point in his Presidency, was heading down into the mid-thirties in job approvals, only to win reelection, less than two years later, with 58% of the vote. Opinions change. The world changes. MOst of us notice.

  20. mantis says:

    Michelle Bachmann on the House floor yesterday:

    This is why we were sent here, and we will not stop until we repeal a president and put a president in the position of the White House who will repeal this bill, until we repeal the current Senate, put in a Senate that will listen to the American people and repeal this bill.

    They’re going to “repeal a president” and “repeal the current Senate,” eh?

    With such geniuses leading the charge, how can Republicans go wrong?

  21. Sort of reminds me of professors dusting off their old notes from 10 or 20 years ago to teach a new class. Similar story lines have been around every four years since at least 1994.

  22. Terrye says:

    I can remember when Bush had an approval rating of 90% even with all the built in prejudices against his party. I think Obama is benefiting from the fact that Pelosi is gone. I really do. And I think he is good at talking yak yak yak…but time will pass and people will forget how they cried during the memorial and if unemployment is still over 9% and if the Democrats are still trying to bankrupt the country people will start to get pissy with Obama all over again. That is human nature.

  23. mantis says:

    I can remember when Bush had an approval rating of 90% even with all the built in prejudices against his party.

    You missed a rather big contributing factor.

  24. Tano says:

    “I can remember when Bush had an approval rating of 90% even with all the built in prejudices against his party.”

    The “built in prejudices” aint nothing compared to what the Dems would face. The message to take from Bush’s 90% approval rating is that when the nation faced a great crisis, a murderous attack on our people, nearly all Americans – not just Republicans but all centrists, and the overwhelming majority of Democrats rallied around the President, irrespective of what we thought of him politically.

    Just imagine if there were a similar attack now. The moderates and centrists I dont’ worry about, but how many Republicans (true Republicans, not RINOs) would rally around our President?

  25. PJ says:

    This thread is rather weird since a couple of comments are gone.

  26. anjin-san says:

    > Well after 9/11 I don’t remember the Republicans trying to blame Al Gore for the terrorist attack.

    They didn’t blame Gore, they blamed Clinton. Perhaps you have some selective amnesia going.

    Here is a sample. There is plenty more:

    http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2003/9/4/03534.shtml

  27. anjin-san says:

    Terrye you can carry on all you like. This is not a difficult thing to figure out. While the GOP was busy patting themselves on the back over the midterms, Obama ran the table on them in the lame duck session. And a lot of Americans liked what they saw.

    In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, Obama looked Presidential, and Palin looked rather like a self-centered drama queen.

    Do you have anything to contribute besides whining about supposedly biased polls or making comments like “Too bad people had to die to help the guy out.” (A nasty remark indeed. unintended self disclosure on your part, I suspect).

    The bottom line on 2012 is that Palin simply cannon function in any setting besides a scrubbed, sanitized, screened, guaranteed-ahead-of-time 100& friendly setting. Republican political professionals know it, and they are afraid of the potential for a train wreck that will do long term damage to the party. Most of the American people know it, and they don’t want Palin anywhere near the White House. It is instructive that in Alaska, where they know Palin best, her support has collapsed.

  28. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, I don’t know if it sinks in with you, but no one was blaming Obama for the shooting in Tucson. So only is a very very sick mind would someone call defending ones self from lies about responsibility would that be called self centered behavior. You, anjin san are and idiot and a fool. a liar as well. I trust you are not in any sort of employment position (if you even work) were any sort of sane judgement is called for because it cannot come from one like you. If you think Palin is somewhat limited, which she is not, why don’t you try your bs somewhere beside the echo chamber. This is just a guess, but I’ll bet you prefer the company of young gay men to that of attractive women. I’m not judging, just saying.

  29. anjin-san says:

    > I trust you are not in any sort of employment position (if you even work)

    Actually, I gave a presentation to 25 senior executives in our San Francisco office today 🙂

  30. An Interested Party says:

    Well after 9/11 I don’t remember the Republicans trying to blame Al Gore for the terrorist attack.

    No, Terrye, as anjin-san wrote, they blamed Clinton…

    “And the truth is Obama made a point of trying not to sound like most of the rest of his own party after the events in Tucson..”

    Of course, because he is the president to us all, not just partisans on either side, and it would have been ridiculous for him to make such claims, but perhaps you think he did what he did solely out of political calculation…

    “I think Obama is benefiting from the fact that Pelosi is gone. I really do.”

    Well of course you do…yours is hardly a subjective or centrist opinion, however…

    “…and if the Democrats are still trying to bankrupt the country people will start to get pissy with Obama all over again.”

    Like when they got pissy with Republicans when the GOP was doing the exact same thing?

    “You, anjin san are and idiot and a fool. a liar as well.”

    This from a person who actually believes that Sarah Palin is going to be our next president? Please…

    “I trust you are not in any sort of employment position (if you even work) were any sort of sane judgement is called for because it cannot come from one like you.”

    Tough talk indeed from someone who lives on the government dole…

    “This is just a guess, but I’ll bet you prefer the company of young gay men to that of attractive women.”

    Homophobes never fail to deliver exactly what is expected of them…