Beneath Obama’s Rising Approval Ratings

As you probably know, one thing that makes tonight’s SOTU a potential turning point in the Obama presidency is a new confidence undergirded by slowly but surely brightening job approval ratings, clearly fed in part by increasingly optimistic assessments of the economy. At National Journal, Ron Brownstein looks beneath the numbers at trends among demographic groups, and finds that familar patterns are simply intensifying:

President Obama heads into his State of the Union address tonight enjoying reviving approval ratings from key groups in his coalition, but still facing entrenched skepticism from the older and blue-collar whites who were crucial to GOP victories last fall.

In the latest national Pew Research Center survey released last week, Obama’s overall approval rating rebounded to 47 percent, with 48 percent disapproving. That was a significant improvement over the 42-43 percent rating Pew had recorded for him in each of their surveys from last August through last December; the Edison Research exit poll on Election Day last November found that 44 percent of voters approved of his performance.

Some other new surveys also show an uptick for Obama since then. An ABC/Washington Post poll released Tuesday placed his approval rating at 50 percent, his best showing in that survey since May 2013. The latest CBS News poll put Obama’s approval at 46 percent.

Pew isn’t quite showing the disproportionate gains among Latinos that ABC/WaPo (and some more isolated polling of Latinos) is showing, but the basic split between better approval numbers among “Obama coalition” groups and college-educated swing voters, and stagnant or even poorer ratings among Republican-leaning non-college-educated white voters, is clear enough. The latter voters do not perceive improvements in their own economic prospects, though it’s not entirely clear whether that’s a cause or an effect of disdain for the president. If it’s an effect, then at some point a combination of an improved economy and a Democratic Party refocused on addressing the plight of those left behind by economic growth ought to have at least some impact on the sour disposition and Republican voting habits of the white working class.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.