The Clinton Advantage

The folks at First Read highlight what they think is the most important number in the latest NBC/WSJ poll.

There are plenty of storylines and new numbers from our latest national NBC/WSJ poll, but here’s maybe the most important number of all: 51% — as in President Obama’s approval rating, which is his highest mark in the poll since his second inauguration.

Fifty-one percent doesn’t sound like a lot. But by comparison, George W. Bush was at 27% in their April 2008 poll. More importantly, here is how that number breaks down.

When Republicans are in single digits, it tends to bring the average down. But the real news is that Obama is over 50% with independents. When it comes to his 88% approval rating among Democrats, here is how that breaks down with different constituencies.

Perhaps more than anything else, the 90% Obama approval among African Americans is why Bernie Sanders never made any inroads with that constituency. Early on in the primary, Clinton built a firewall by not only reaching out to African American leaders, but by making it clear that she celebrated this President’s successes and would build on them. On the other hand, Sanders’ African American spokespeople (like Cornel West) have regularly lobbed personal insults at Obama – demonstrating that they were significant outliers in that community.

What is also interesting to note is that 82% of those who voted for Sanders in the primary approve of President Obama’s performance. That is somewhat surprising given that the candidate has dismissed the gains of the last 7 1/2 years as minimal due to Democratic corruption by monied interests. Perhaps the acrimony we see from Sanders’ supporters is more limited than it has been portrayed and more of a response to the heated primary than any real disillusion with the Democratic Party.

All of that will be over in the next few weeks. What we are about to witness is a popular two-term incumbent president campaigning strongly for his party’s current nominee. Political scientists and pollsters are limited in their predictive capabilities about what that means because it hasn’t happened in American politics in a very long time.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.