President Obama's rising approval rating: 4 theories

The commander-in-chief was sagging in the polls for months. What's helping him bounce back?

Once new poll shows President Obama's approval rating at 49 percent, the highest it's been since March.
(Image credit: Olivier Douliery/Pool/Corbis)

After several rough months, President Obama's approval ratings are on the rise. In a survey released this week by CNN/ORC International, 49 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of Obama's job performance, a five-percent bump since a month ago. A Washington Post-ABC News survey also put the president's approval rating at 49 percent, the highest level in that poll since March. With Obama's disapproval rating at 47 percent, it's the first time since May that more people have approved than disapproved of Obama's job performance. Why the turnaround? Here, four theories:

1. This is a gift from Republicans

President Obama has Republican politicking over the payroll tax cut extension to thank for his good fortune, says CNN polling director Keating Holland. The president's surge has been "fueled by dramatic gains among middle-income Americans." Apparently, they're warming to Obama because House Republicans, who are trying to block the president and Senate's bipartisan compromise to keep a popular tax holiday from expiring Jan. 1, are "helping Obama's efforts to portray himself as the defender of the middle class."

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2. Obama's populist offensive is working

It's too early to say whether this means Obama's re-election chances are improving, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. But this should put to rest the argument that only the Democratic base is listening to "Obama's emphasis on inequality, Wall Street's lack of accountability, economic fairness, and the need for the rich to pay more in taxes." Obama's critics insist that he "risks alienating the 'class warfare'-averse middle of the country," but clearly, his strategy is working.

3. As always, it's the economy

"The American economy is by no means in good shape — not when 13.3 million Americans remain out of work" — but there have been promising signs lately, says Nate Silver at The New York Times. Unemployment just dropped to 8.6 percent from 9 percent, and Gallup polls show economic confidence rebounding. Obama is riding that wave of economic good news. And if the president really is near 50 percent approval, history suggests he's more likely to win than lose come November 2012.

4. Hold on. Some of Obama's numbers are still lousy

"Obama has rebounded slightly in job approval," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, "but has had no real change on the economy and job creation." He "remains underwater" on those issues — with 41 percent approving of his handling of the economy, and 55 percent disapproving — and that's what really matters to voters. Republicans should keep in mind that Obama has gained middle-class credibility with his push for the payroll tax cut extension, but really, "we're not looking at a major rebound."

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