Obama Approval Surging

Don't look now but President Obama's approval ratings are closing in on levels that point to re-election.

Don’t look now but President Obama’s approval ratings are closing in on levels that point to re-election.

CNN (“CNN Poll: President’s approval nearing 50%“):

President Barack Obama’s approval rating, a crucial indicator of his reelection chances, is on the rise, according to a new national survey.

A CNN/ORC International Poll out Tuesday also indicates that the partisan battle over extending the payroll tax cut may be partially responsible for the jump in the president’s numbers.

According to the survey, 49% of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing in the White House, up five points from last month, with 48% saying they disapprove, down six points from mid-November. The 49% approval rating is the president’s highest since May, when his number hit 54% thanks to a bounce following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Since then, in CNN polling, Obama’s approval rating has hovered in the mid-40s.

“President Barack Obama’s approval rating appears to be fueled by dramatic gains among middle-income Americans,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “The data suggest that the debate over the payroll tax is helping Obama’s efforts to portray himself as the defender of the middle class.”

Obama’s gains have come at the expense of the Republicans in Congress and the GOP in general. By a 50% to 31% margin, people questioned say they have more confidence in the president than in congressional Republicans to handle the major issues facing the country. Obama held a much narrower 44% to 39% margin in March.

And the GOP’s overall favorable rating has dropped to six points, to 43%, since June, while the Democrats’ positive rating remained steady at 55%.

“The Democrats do particularly well among middle income Americans, while the Republicans win support only from the top end of the income scale,” adds Holland.

Overall, only 16% say they approve of the job Congress is doing, with 83% giving lawmakers from both parties the thumbs down. The Congressional disapproval rating has topped 80% since August in CNN polling.

The survey indicates that Obama remains personally popular, with three-quarters saying they approve of him as a person.

The last of these is likely the most crucial: Most Americans want to approve of Obama and always have. The wretched economy has made that very hard but Obama is doing a very good job of positioning himself as someone who cares very much about the plight of those suffering, is working hard to find solutions, and–most importantly–is doing so despite the intransigence of Republican obstructionists.

Now, it’s worth noting that the polling on this question is surprisingly fluid. Of the five recent polls included in the RealClearPolitics average–which has not been updated to include this just-released CNN poll–four still show higher disapproval than approval. But the three newest polls–four, if we include CNN’s–all show an upward trend.

I’m still betting on Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination and think he’s the available Republican with the best chance of beating Obama. If the economy is still in the toilet next fall, he might just do it. But it’s going to be an uphill fight. As I’ve noted many times in this space, the default position in American politics has been to re-elect incumbent presidents. And this particular one is a great fundraiser, a great campaigner, and a sunnier, more personable, fellow than any of his opponents.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. michael reynolds says:


    Mr. Romney’s consistent inability to generate even a trace of enthusiasm among Republicans is now defining him as an unsellable property, the house that’s been on the market so long there has to be something wrong.

    And we do want Mr. Obama to succeed.

    God bless Speaker Boehner and Eric Cantor. God bless the GOP presidential field, the whole incompetent, stupid, incoherent, dickish lost of them. Yay Tea Party!

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Oh, and thank you, Occupy Wall Street, who I suspect have changed the zeitgeist, reminding voters that there is a party that too often bows down to the rich . . . and then there’s the party that drops to its knees and gives the rich a b.j.

  3. Fiona says:

    Hard to think of two more unlikeable chaps than the two current Republican front runners. Mitt is smart enough and probably won’t do any great harm should he become president, but he’s such a shape shifter that it’s hard to detect any there there. And Newt–ugh.

    In contrast to the Republican freak show, Obama looks sane to anyone who isn’t a regular Faux News viewer. I wouldn’t say his poll numbers are surging but, save for some giant calamity, I would bet on him to beat whomever the Republicans nominate.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    I have to take the same stand I do when Doug hurries to write a post on the latest downward blip…it’s not significant…barely outside the margin of error.
    Roughly speaking Obama has been bouncing up and down between 40 and 50% for most of the last two years. I don’t think it’s worth thinking about until around June of next year.
    I think the approach he has taken since the phony debt ceiling debacle is the right approach…and clearly it is working. The House GOP bludgeoning themselves with the payroll tax issue will also help. Nearly every economic indicator is trending in the right direction…no thanks to the obstructionists in Congress.
    The biggest factor of all is Europe. As Europe goes, so goes Obama.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    When your opponent is busy committing suicide you simply get out his way. Axelrod certainly knows that.

    That said, however, a CNN poll might be the only thing out there less reliable than Amtrak. The reality is the economy is a disaster and potentially will get far worse over the next 6-9 months. For every useful idiot that supports Obama there’s at least one adult voter on Main Street who doesn’t support him, notwithstanding whatever polling data CNN blows out of its pie hole.

    If Romney is the GOP nominee there would be a material likelihood (perhaps a probability) of Obama being unseated, despite the media and despite the union/academia cabal. If Gingrich were to become the nominee, however, then obviously Obama will be re-elected, regardless of how catastrophic the job and housing markets might be next fall.

  6. MBunge says:

    @Fiona: “Mitt is smart enough and probably won’t do any great harm should he become president”

    I get the sense that is the default view of Romney of our political establishment, which overlooks a few things.

    1. Romney is promising tax cuts that would be only slightly less disasterous than what the rest of the Republican contenders are offering.

    2. He’s running perhaps the most demagogic and deceitful campaign of anyone in the GOP field, which is saying a lot.

    3. Any Republican who wins the Presidency next year, no matter how personally reasonable and non-threatening they may be, will validate everything the right wing has been saying and doing for the last 3 years.


  7. JKB says:

    So the only hope is to soak the Congress in TEA? That might be the best plan given the Republican field. Fill up the Congress, governors and state legislatures with Tea party sympathetic people. Obama still has the regulatory state and the judiciary to continue work destroying America but the money can be dried up as well as being in position to run it to ground after overreach.

    And for fun, Palin for President. Guaranteed to drain Democratic coffers. Should she win or come close, there’d be a boom in the funeral business with so many Progressives and much of the DC establishment stroking out or having their head explode. Ah, good times.

    Seems to me the worst will befall those with kids. It’s there children who will be handed a life of misery and control. But perhaps they won’t miss freedom since parents let them have so little these days.

  8. TIllman says:

    “Union/academia cabal.” Ah, that most successful of alliances through which the unseating of both business magnate and enjoyable prose was accomplished!

  9. ponce says:

    Obama will win by 20-30 million votes.

  10. Ponce,

    The 2008 vote margin way roughly 10,000,000 popular votes. Even if Obama wins, the 2012 margin will be smaller. That’s my call.

  11. Jr says:

    It has been a good month for Obama, holiday spending is up as is consumer confidence and the GOP in congress continue to make fools of themselves.

  12. just me says:

    I have long believed barring some really awful event Obama gets blamed for just before the election, he was going to be reelected. Even if his pole numbers are low, I think he will pull off the win.

    Two things-First I think most of the disatisfaction comes from people who are frustrated with him but won’t really view alternatives as viable options. Second I really don’t see a super strong, charismatic GOP candidate. Shoot I look at most of them and feel uninspired.

  13. WR says:

    @JKB: “Seems to me the worst will befall those with kids. It’s there children who will be handed a life of misery and control. But perhaps they won’t miss freedom since parents let them have so little these days”

    Oh, those poor children, deprived of the freedom to take their parents’ janitorial jobs at sub-minimum wages because the nation isn’t smart enough to elect a Republican who will wipe out child labor laws. Truly, JKB, I am in awe of the generosity of your spirit.

  14. mattb says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    despite the media and despite the union/academia cabal

    Wait… I thought the latest right wing meme is that Obama is giving up on white union and blue-collar workers… so shouldn’t it just be “the media” and “academic elites” and “minority” cabal?

  15. Hey Norm says:

    “…The reality is the economy is a disaster and potentially will get far worse over the next 6-9 months…”

    You should look up the word reality…I do not think it means what you think it means.
    As for the next 6-9 months…if Europe implodes…yes.
    Otherwise Republican efforts to harm the economy will continue to fail.

  16. G.A.Phillips says:

    Obama Approval Surging

    lol, sure it is…..

  17. David says:

    What is going to be interesting is to see what his numbers do over the next few weeks and what happens with the payroll tax hike that it looks like a lot of us are going to see.

  18. anjin-san says:

    Fill up the Congress, governors and state legislatures with Tea party sympathetic people.

    You might want to take a look at the approval numbers of the last crop of incoming GOP governors. Bring a magnifying glass so you can find them…

  19. Hey Norm says:

    Romney gave a re-worked stump speech yesterday in which he said:

    “…Just a couple of weeks ago in Kansas, President Obama lectured us about Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy of government. But he failed to mention the important difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Roosevelt believed that government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities. President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others…”

    Now…if your entire argument is based on a bald-faced lie…that raising taxes to Clinton era levels is creating equal outcomes and socialism…then you really don’t have much of an argument. No wonder Obama is surging.

  20. sam says:

    Who wouldn’t surge when the noncrazoid public views your opposition collectively as this.