- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2016

President Obama’s job approval rating has reached its highest level in three years, buoyed by a slowly improving economy, the battle with Senate Republicans over his Supreme Court nominee and the chaotic tenor of the campaign to replace him.

Mr. Obama’s job approval has climbed to 53 percent in the Gallup daily tracking poll, its highest point since January 2013, shortly after his re-election. In December, the president was mired at 43 percent in the Gallup poll.

Other surveys are showing similar results. The Rasmussen Reports daily tracking poll Friday showed Mr. Obama with a 52 percent approval rating. An Associated Press-GfK poll released Saturday found that 50 percent of those questioned approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing in office; in mid-February, 44 percent approved of his job performance in the same survey.

Pollsters say the president is benefiting from 72 consecutive months of private-sector job growth, with the jobless rate falling to 5 percent.

“The effects of so many months of consistent job improvement have kicked in,” Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, said in an interview. “People still have plenty of anxieties about the economy, but they are less anxious than they used to be about losing their job or not finding a new job.”

Mr. Obama’s rising favorability will likely allow him to take a larger role in the presidential campaign, a part that he has already shown an eagerness to play. His job approval rating above 50 percent is much higher than George W. Bush’s at the same point in his presidency but below Bill Clinton’s 60 percent.

While the public’s assessment of the president’s job performance is rising, the gains are modest. The AP poll found that only 43 percent approve of Mr. Obama’s handling of the threat posed by the Islamic State terrorist group and 71 percent believe the country is headed in the “wrong direction,” up from 68 percent last month.

Mr. Garin, who has worked for Democrats on surveys about Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, said Mr. Obama also is benefiting from Senate Republicans’ refusal to proceed with confirmation hearings.

“The voters really don’t like this idea of being unwilling to consider any nominee, no matter how well-qualified, essentially three-quarters of the way through a president’s term,” Mr. Garin said. “It’s yet another thing that makes the president look like the adult in the room and somebody who’s looking out for the larger national interest, while the Republicans in the Senate look petty and political by comparison.”

Republican pollster Jon McHenry of North Star Opinion Research said he doubts the Supreme Court nomination is a factor in Mr. Obama’s improved position.

“I suspect it’s just [Mr. Obama] being out of the spotlight and others on both sides being the partisan fighters,” Mr. McHenry said. “Independents are the least likely to care about the Supreme Court (with Republicans caring most and Democrats in the middle), so I’m skeptical this nomination helps drive his numbers.”

On Sunday, Mr. Obama himself said confidently that he would stand by Judge Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court all the way through the end of his term, despite Republican opposition or the possibility that a Democratic successor would pick a more liberal judge.

Mr. Obama told “Fox News Sunday” that he still believes the majority of senators ultimately will decide that Judge Garland should be confirmed and predicted that Republicans eventually will yield to pressure.

“I think if they go through the process, they won’t have a rationale to defeat him,” Mr. Obama said. “My point is, go through the process, go through the hearings, and if you do that, the American people and the majority of senators will determine that, in fact, he is qualified to be on the court. What we can’t have is a situation in which the Republican Senate simply says, ‘Because it’s a Democratic president, we are not going to do our job, have hearings and have a vote.’”

Mr. Obama also was asked whether he would consider pulling the Garland nomination after the November election if a Democrat is elected to succeed him and could nominate a more liberal judge.

“Absolutely not,” the president responded.

Indeed, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said the Supreme Court battle is contributing to the public’s perception that Mr. Obama “wants to get something done,” while many Republican senators are refusing even to meet with Judge Garland as a courtesy.

“People won’t even talk to him? That seems really arbitrary to voters,” she said. “That just seems very un-American to people.”

While there is less polling information on the subject, there is also a belief that Mr. Obama is looking better to voters in the midst of particularly heated presidential primaries between Republicans Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders. The AP poll put Mr. Obama’s favorability at 53 percent, followed by Mr. Sanders at 48 percent, Mrs. Clinton at 40 percent, and Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump each at 26 percent.

Poll respondent Terry Trudeau, 66, said he preferred Mr. Obama to “all of them” running for the White House.

“One of the qualities I like is he’s been able to work with other countries and make deals,” Mr. Trudeau told AP, citing Mr. Obama’s climate change pacts with China as an example. “Donald Trump will never be able to do that. He would try to bully them.”

The AP survey found no evidence that Republican opposition is dwindling or that Mr. Obama has become a less-polarizing figure. Only about one in 10 Republicans said they approve of the job the president is doing.

“I just feel that he’s out of touch with what’s going on. I feel like he’s more concerned with his legacy than making change,” Angela Buckmaster, a 47-year-old Republican from Lansing, Michigan, told the AP.

Democratic pollster Jefrey Pollock, president of Global Strategy Group, said Mr. Obama represents stability “more than anything.”

“There’s not chaos. There’s not yelling. He’s the grown-up,” Mr. Pollock said in an interview. “The presidency allows him to do that, but also he’s clearly above the fray right now. That is leading some of the voters to look at him in a different light.”

Mr. Garin said independent voters, especially, are warming to Mr. Obama.

“That’s where they movement has occurred,” Mr. Garin said. “For much of his presidency, he was substantially underwater with independent voters. Now he’s at least reached a level plateau with them.”

The development means that Mr. Obama will be able to inject himself credibly into the presidential campaign, Mr. Garin said, to the benefit of the eventual Democratic nominee.

“It’s much harder to conceive of a party keeping the White House for a third term if the incumbent president is far underwater,” he said. “There’s no real historical precedent for that. So the fact that he’s been able to raise his game in this way puts the Democratic nominee in much better stead.”

By contrast, Mr. Bush was viewed as a drag on Republican nominee John McCain in 2008, with the economy sinking and Mr. Bush’s job approval rating hovering in the mid-30s.

Still, there are rumblings among Democrats that they are not as satisfied with either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Sanders as they have been with the president. Mr. Obama said late last week that he gets annoyed when Democrats tell him they are not excited about the party’s presidential primary.

The president told donors at a party fundraiser in Southern California, “There are times where, as devoted as all of you are, when I’m traveling through Democratic circles I see, ‘Oh, Mr. President, we love you so, and we’re going to miss you so. And sometimes I’m not that excited about this election.’ And I say, ‘I have no patience for that.’ I say to folks, ‘We cannot be complacent, and we cannot be cynical, because the stakes are too high.’”

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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