National Journal offers some interesting, if contradictory, results from their latest poll.  Barack Obama only gets 40% of registered voters supporting him for a second term, according to the NJ/Allstate Heartland Monitor poll, with 50% opposed.  However, Obama also gets a 49/44 approval rating:

Fully half of registered voters say they would definitely or probably vote for a candidate other than President Obama if the presidential election were held today, according to a new Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll.

50 percent of registered voters surveyed said they would definitely or probably vote for someone else, while just 40 percent said they would definitely or probably vote for the president.

The 40% number isn’t firm, either.  Only 22% said they would definitely vote for Obama; the other 18% were probables.  In contrast, 35% of voters will definitely not vote for Obama, and another 16% are probables for his eventual challenger. (That adds to 51%, which may be rounding errors or a typo on NJ’s part.)  The disparity shows that even after a brief bump in popularity in the first of this year, mainly personal popularity, Obama is still clearly losing the passion battle, a battle he easily won in 2008.

But the poll also shows that Obama’s job approval has slightly improved:

Obama’s approval rating among adults stands at 49 percent in the poll while 44 percent disapprove — largely unmoved from the 48 percent who approved and 46 percent who disapproved in the poll taken from November 29-December 1 2010. The president has not crested the 50 percent mark in any Heartland Monitor poll since September 2009.

NJ’s Ron Brownstein thinks this is good news for Obama:

But most political scientists and electoral strategists agree that a president’s approval rating is the best barometer of his chances for reelection, and on that front, Obama continued to improve his standing, although only gradually.

In the latest survey, 49 percent of those polled said they approved of Obama’s performance as president, and 44 percent disapproved. That’s a change only within the margin of error since the December Heartland Monitor, when 48 percent approved and 46 percent disapproved. Still, Obama’s approval rating is the highest the poll has recorded for him since September 2009.

And beneath the top-line number were some other encouraging signs for the president. In particular, independents who said they approved of his performance (47 percent) exceeded those who said they disapproved (43 percent); that is the first time more independents approved than disapproved of Obama’s performance in a Heartland survey since September 2009.

While NJ hasn’t published the sample composition or any of the rest of the survey’s raw data, a chart accompanying Brownstein’s analysis shows that Obama’s job approval ticked upward with both independents and Republicans, albeit slightly.  It actually dipped a bit with Democrats.  If the slight uptick in approval came from faulty sampling, it would have to have meant that the previous survey’s sample was even worse.

What this demonstrates is that after more than two years, Obama hasn’t made the sale on his presidency, but that he still has time and an opening to do so.  If he expects to win another term, it will come down to the economic environment in which he runs.  Thirty-six percent say Obama’s policies have made the country worse off, compared to only 13% who say the country has significantly improved as a direct result of those policies, but 44% say that they believe the country may be moving in the right direction even if nothing much has improved.  The 36% correspond almost exactly to those who definitely won’t vote for Obama, while the 13% surely comprises most of the 22% who definitely will.  How much the economy improves over the next year, or whether it does at all, will make or break Obama with the 44% still waiting to see how it all works out.