Why Obama is rising in the polls — and Republicans aren't

A Bloomberg poll puts the president's approval numbers at a three-year high, while GOP leaders are at a three-year low

During his State of the Union address, President Obama blows a kiss to his wife... and maybe to America, too.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Obama just got a boost as he heads into a showdown with Republicans over reducing the deficit to avoid $1.2 trillion in 10-year budget cuts due to begin hitting March 1. Bloomberg released a poll late Wednesday that gave Obama his highest job-approval rating in three years, with 55 percent of those surveyed giving him a thumbs up. At the same time, the poll put the popularity of Republicans at its lowest point since Bloomberg began measuring in September 2009, with just 35 percent saying they view the GOP favorably. The GOP's brand has slipped six percentage points in the last six months alone.

Predictably, the news triggered a wave of gloating from Obama's supporters. "Americans just aren't buying what Republicans are selling," says Steve Benen at MSNBC. And Bloomberg's poll results aren't even the worst new numbers showing just how bad the GOP's predicament is. "That prize goes to a new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll," Benen says, in which nearly half of Americans blame the GOP for the looming budget fiasco — known as the sequester — while only a hair more than 30 percent blame Democrats.

With a week to go before the sequestration deadline hits, GOP leaders are convinced they can win a public-relations fight with the White House because, conservatives believe, Americans will blame Obama for the dangerous sequester policy that Republicans championed.This poll suggests the GOP isn't just wrong, its understanding of public attitudes is the exact opposite of reality. The public is prepared to hold Republicans responsible for this self-inflicted wound that will undermine the economy, the military, and public needs. The one thing the GOP is counting on — avoiding blame at all costs — is already failing miserably. [MSNBC]

Republicans can call this the "Obamaquester" all they want, suggests Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice, but the public sees through it. Yes, Obama originally backed the idea as a way to wriggle out of the debt-ceiling crisis in 2011, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) "was a cheerleader... for it two years ago," too. And today, "more Americans will blame it on the Republican Party than on Obama, no matter what Fox News, Sean Hannity or conservative bloggers say." Why? Obama says spending on infrastructure, education, and alternative energy will create more jobs than the GOP obsession with slashing taxes and spending — and the president's approach is closer to what most Americans want. "GOPers continue playing to their choir," Gandelman says, "while Obama is successfully addressing a larger pool of Americans and is (for now) changing some minds."

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"President Obama has staked out positions that seem to be closer to the public's thinking than the positions Republicans have staked out," Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, tells USA Today. "The challenge for him is in building the public's sense of immediacy on some of these issues, particularly on climate change and guns." If he can't do that, he'll have trouble capitalizing on the upper hand he now enjoys over GOP leaders, and getting key elements of his agenda passed.

Of course, Obama still faces some headwinds. "Americans do narrowly disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy," says Kevin Robillard at Politico, "and have an overwhelmingly negative opinion about his handling of the federal deficit — only 35 percent approve, and 55 percent disapprove."

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.