President Obama has reached Reagan-like levels of popularity in the twilight of his tenure, but analysts say his bounce can be attributed largely to the fact that he is fading into the political background as the next presidential race kicks into high gear and as Congress claims a surprising number of concrete legislative accomplishments.
Mr. Obama’s job approval rating stands at 46.4 percent, his highest mark in nearly two years, according to a recent Gallup survey. The figure puts him in the company of President Reagan, whose approval rating also hovered around 46 percent at the same point in his presidency.
Mr. Obama is far above President Bush, whose rating sunk to 35 percent during his 25th quarter in office. But Mr. Obama trails President Clinton, who held 64 percent approval ratings at this point in his term.
Political analysts attribute Mr. Obama’s bounce to a number of factors, including positive economic signs, low gas prices and, to some degree, diplomatic outreach efforts such as the reboot with communist Cuba.
But the most significant factor may be that the president increasingly is becoming something of an afterthought in Washington, with candidates to succeed him taking center stage and Congress racking up a number of high-profile bipartisan achievements, said Lara Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University.
“All of the anger and intensity around what the president should do or shouldn’t do starts to actually fade, partly because the expectations for the president to do things start to go down,” she said. “People start to perceive him as a lame duck and they stop expecting him to do things and then they’re not as hypercritical. The other piece is that actually the Senate is getting things done, the Congress is passing some legislation and the president is signing some legislation.”
Indeed, Congress in recent weeks has reached bipartisan agreement on the Medicare “doc fix,” a replacement for the No Child Left Behind federal education law and other key items.
Moving forward, the president is eyeing trade promotion authority and has found himself at odds with many leading liberal Democrats.
Top progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, remain deeply opposed to the president’s push for trade authority, which would allow Mr. Obama to negotiate massive free trade deals and then submit them to Congress for a simple up or down vote, rather than allow lawmakers to alter the deal or propose endless amendments.
Ms. Warren and other Democrats argue that such authority — and the subsequent trade deals it would spawn — may hurt U.S. workers, but the White House says the president has built a great deal of good will among liberals and that good will could be used to sway skeptical lawmakers on the issue of trade.
“The president has rightly built up significant credibility with progressives all across the country. And he feels confident in making the case to them and to the rest of the American people that the kind of agreement that he seeks is one that is clearly in the best interest of American businesses, American workers, and American middle-class families,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. “The president has got a strong track record of fighting for middle-class families.”
Mr. Obama’s approval rating among Democrats now stands at 88 percent, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released last week. The president in recent months has taken action on a number of priorities important to liberal Democrats, including executive steps to stop deportations for millions of illegal immigrants and pursuing an unprecedented climate change agenda centered on cutting emissions from power plants.
But a rebounding economy and low gas prices may be the largest single factor in Mr. Obama’s rising poll numbers, surveys show.
Half of American adults say they have confidence in the president to do “the right thing for the economy,” according to a Gallup poll released last week. At this time last year, the figure was 42 percent.
The Gallup survey also shows that on the economy, Mr. Obama remains far more popular than lawmakers. Forty-four percent of Americans said they have confidence in Democratic congressional leaders to do the right thing for the economy.
For Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, the number is 38 percent, Gallup reported, though that is a 14-point jump from their rating at the same time last year.