Obama overall approval up to 54%, but on issues still mired

Barack Obama got a bounce on overall approval coming off of last week’s high-profile memorial event in Tucson, Arizona, going to his highest job performance rating since last April in the Washington Post/ABC poll — but that was mainly driven from personal approval. Jake Tapper notes, though, that his job approval on key issues remains mired at pre-midterm levels.  Plus, it appears that neither the Post nor ABC will release the sample demographics:

Aided by his response to the Tucson shootings, popular lame-duck legislation and a hint of economic relief, Barack Obama has matched his highest job approval rating in more than a year in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, with his ratings for empathy likewise rebounding. …

Fifty-four percent now approve of Obama’s job performance, up 5 points from last month and 8 points above his career low in September. And given overwhelming approval of his response to the Tucson attack, Americans by an 18-point margin, 58-40 percent, say Obama “understands the problems of people like you.” That’s up from a mere 2-point split, 50-48 percent, in September.

Obama got a bounce on the soft evaluations, especially on personals, but given the stage on which he operated last Wednesday, a five-point bounce in overall job approval to his pre-Gulf spill level seems a little weak.  Tapper warns the White House not to pop the champale as he explains why:

But it is hardly time for the president to pop open the champale. While the percentage of those saying the country is heading in the right direction is up 7 points from last month, a whopping 60 percent believe the US is headed seriously off on the wrong track.

And the president is still under 50% when it comes to his handling of the economy, which 72% of all Americans say should be the highest priority for him and Congress.

Perhaps the most troubling data point for the president – he and the Republicans are tied for the first time in trust to handle health care, with trust in Obama dropping 9 points since last month to a new low, and trust in the GOP gaining 4 points, rough news for the president in advance of the vote this week in the House to repeal the health care law.

In other words, Obama hasn’t done anything to address the underlying issues that pushed his job approval downward.  As the new session of Congress opens, voters will turn their attention back to policy, and Obama doesn’t do nearly as well there as he does on the dais.  On the issues, Obama has barely moved since December:

  • Economy: 46/51, up from 43/54
  • Health care: 43/52, down from 45/50
  • Afghanistan: 49/41, up from 45/46
  • Deficit: 43/52, up from 38/55
  • Taxes: 50/44, down from 51/40 (in August)

Plus, it’s worth pointing out a couple of issues in the poll itself.  The pollster surveyed 1053 adults, not registered voters, which is consistent within the WaPo/ABC series but generally produces non-predictive results.  More importantly, this is the second survey in a row in which the Post and ABC have failed to report the demographics of its respondents, especially on party affiliation.  This series has an extremely poor record in representing the current state of the electorate.  For instance, in their October survey before the midterms when most pollsters try hardest for accuracy, the sample had a ten-point advantage for the Democrats when Gallup and Rasmussen had put the field at closer to dead even.  This caused the Post and ABC to report that Democrats had begun a “modest” comeback, a meme that got utterly discredited a month later as the GOP scored the biggest midterm victory in 72 years.

Taking this poll result at face value, Obama may have gotten a bump that relates mainly to his personal likability, assuming that the sample wasn’t tilted even more egregiously for Democrats, and no real increase in support for his policies.  As policies come back to the fore with Congress getting back to work, expect the bounce to dissipate quickly.