President Obama’s popularity surges to three-year high

President Obama is riding a wave of personal popularity into his second term, with his highest favorability ratings since his first year in office, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Fully 60 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Obama in the new poll, up slightly from October but a clear shift in opinion from an election year in which his ratings hovered in the mid-to-low 50s. And by 39 percent to 26 percent, the president now has more "strongly" positive ratings than strongly negative reviews, breaking a two-year stretch in which intense opposition was on par with (or higher than) intense support.

Obama's inaugural address earned fewer positive marks and appears to have served mainly as a pep rally, with raving reviews from supporters and plenty of yawns from his opponents. While the speech drew twice as many cheers as jeers -- 51 percent approved while 24 percent disapproved -- a quarter of Americans had no opinion on the speech. More than eight in 10 Democrats approved of Obama's second inaugural, but at least three in 10 Republicans and independents have no reaction at all.

Whatever the reactions to the speech, Obama's general likability has improved across a variety of constituencies, including a wavering base and the political middle. Obama's favorable ratings have climbed by double digits since last year among liberals, racial minorities and people under age 40. Among each group, at least two-thirds now see Obama positively.

Impressions of Barack Obama

Two groups that voted against Obama in November are also beginning to tilt in his direction. Independents see him favorably by a 60-to-36 percent margin, compared with a 51-45 split a year ago. And 51 percent of those ages 65 and older now see Obama favorably, up 11 points from January 2012. Independent voters backed Mitt Romney over Obama by six points in November, and seniors favored Romney by 12 points, according to the national exit poll.

Partisans' opinions have changed the least over time. Fully 80 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Obama, similar to 78 percent last January. Even more Democrats, 92 percent, say the opposite, with favorable ratings ticking up five points from last year.

After surviving the "fiscal cliff" debate no worse for wear, Obama seems emboldened by his current standing. He has tightened his grip on the bully pulpit, advocating new gun legislation and immigration reform in an effort to parlay his personal popularity into legislative victories. Still, the deep partisan divide over Obama will make it difficult for Republicans and conservative Democrats to get on board, especially those facing re-election contests in 2014.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted Jan. 23 to 27 among a random national sample of 1,022 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full survey is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Click here to see full results and interactive breakdowns.

Fixbits:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) liked Obama's immigration speech Tuesday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first immigration hearing on Feb. 13.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doubts Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) commitment to voting on gun control.

At least one Senate Republican will be voting for Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense: Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

Paul Ryan is open to closing the gun show loophole.

Hillary Clinton says "I don't see myself getting back into politics."

John Kerry was confirmed as secretary of state on Tuesday, with just three GOP 'no' votes.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) says Cory Booker is being "exceptionally aggressive" about running for his seat.

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) will announce his campaign for Senate on Thursday, joining Rep. Ed Markey in the Democratic primary for the special election to replace Kerry.

Former congressman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) is interested in replacing Ray LaHood as transportation secretary.

Virginia Republicans' effort to change how the state awards its electoral votes came up short in the state Senate and is dead for now. Meanwhile, state Senate Republicans in Michigan say they likely won't consider a similar bill.

Must-reads:

"Obama unveils his own proposal for immigration reform" -- Zachary A. Goldfarb and William Branigin, Washington Post

"President seeking to balance bully pulpit with negotiations in immigration debate" -- Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

"Give Up Pay? Many Lawmakers Would Feel Little Pain" -- Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

"Cruz's 'Grass-Roots' Role at NRSC Still Evolving" -- David M. Drucker, Roll Call

Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight director Jon Cohen and pollster Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

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