It’s understandable. One of his top natsec advisors just admitted publicly that the White House manufactured an echo chamber within our lazy media to sell Obama’s terrible Iran deal to the public. What civic-minded people could fail to love a president like that?
This is noteworthy not just because WSJ/NBC’s pollster is highly respected but because it’s a poll of registered voters, and polls of RVs showing Obama north of 50 percent are scarce commodities. Scan the list compiled by RCP over the last several months and see how many you find. There are multiple polls of adults showing him at 50 percent or a point or two better but I count exactly two other polls of RVs among the dozens taken this year that have had him above water. (One of those polls, conducted last month, was a poll of likely voters.) On the other hand, the trend among adults overall is unmistakable: After a lo-o-ong stretch of being underwater on average, Obama started to climb in late February and, apart from a blip in April, has stayed above water ever since.
Now here comes the WSJ/NBC with news that he’s reached the highest mark in their polling since he was sworn in for his second term in January 2013.
Fifty-one percent of registered voters say they approve of the job Obama is doing as president, compared to 46 percent who disapprove…
Obama’s approval rating remains dismal with self-described Republicans, who disapprove of his performance by an 88 percent to eight percent margin. It’s nearly the inverse image for Democrats, who approve of the job Obama is doing by 88 percent to 11 percent. And more than half – 54 percent – of independents give Obama high marks, compared to 44 percent who do not.
Who cares how many Americans approve of a lame duck? Well, you do — or you should. My pal Karl flagged this piece by Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball site from early last year noting the correlation between presidential job approval and presidential election outcomes over the last 60 years in races where an incumbent president wasn’t running for reelection. The correlation isn’t perfect: JFK, for instance, narrowly won in 1960 despite Eisenhower’s approval rating being sky high, but well-regarded presidents do tend to help the nominees of their parties. In fact, author Alan Abramowitz estimated that every three-point rise in presidential job approval is worth a half-point to his party’s nominee in the general election. He made a rough prediction based on the historical evidence:
A 51 percent approval rating is nowhere near insurmountable, especially with a nominee as weak as Hillary on the other side, but it’s another headwind that Trump will have to endure. Here’s the big question, though: What happens to Obama’s numbers once he hits the trail for Clinton and Trump inevitably starts laying into him? Like I said yesterday, the more Trump damages Bill Clinton with character attacks now, the more desperate Hillary will become to have Obama, not Bill, act as her chief surrogate on the trail. There will be a Trump/Obama war at some point in this campaign. Who wins that? If Trump can damage O through the sheer brute force of his media ubiquity, he should improve his chances of winning per Abramowitz’s analysis. And he’ll do wonders for party unity by rallying conservatives around the anti-Obama effort.
But hurting Obama carries its own risks. The more Trump attacks, the more irritated anti-Hillary lefties will be to see O under fire. That’ll unify Democrats to some degree. And it may be that having Obama out in front of the “elect Hillary” push will bring an element of prestige and statesmanship to her campaign that it doesn’t really have now, despite her government credentials. One of the theories kicked around by the commentariat for why Obama’s job approval has been rising since late February is that some segment of swing voters is repelled by Trump and appreciates Obama more now by comparison. I think that’s too pat, but if it’s true then the contrast between them should work well for Hillary later when Obama’s out on the stump. On the other hand, it could be that Obama’s approval is rising because there’s simply less of him on TV and in the wider media now than there used to be (thanks in part, of course, to cable news’s endless Trumpmania). Presidents are always viewed more favorably after they become ex-presidents as partisan animus cools; Obama may be enjoying an element of that now that he’s drifted below the radar in his final year. If that’s true, though, reemerging to battle with Trump could undo any post-partisan “ex-president” goodwill he’s enjoying right now and push him back below 50 percent. And if that happens, he might be better off leaving the trail.
Imagine that — Hillary Clinton, charisma vacuum, forced to find a way to beat the highly charismatic Trump with not one but two highly charismatic presidential surrogates sidelined. You like her odds in that scenario, don’t you?