(John Sides/538)

As it turns out, yes, it is. Political scientist John Sides built a model that predicts presidential approval based on the economy, the presence of major scandals and wars, length of time in office and past approval.And Obama, the George Washington University professor says, should not be as popular as he is:

[Obama] is more popular than expected, and consistently so throughout these three years. His quarterly approval ratings are, on average, nine points higher than expected.

[...]Two other presidents have experienced a discrepancy between expected and actual approval in their first terms that was larger than the discrepancy in Mr. Obama’s first three years. One was George W. Bush, and this arises largely because the model doesn’t fully anticipate the quickness and size of the “rally effect” that took place after Sept. 11, 2001. The other was Ronald Reagan, whose first-term approval ratings exhibited more fluctuation than Mr. Obama’s but were about 10 points above the model’s expectations, on average.

Sides offers two hypotheses for Obama’s overperformance: First, that perhaps he’s just a likable guy. Second, that Americans still seem to place most of the blame for the bad economy on Bush.

I’d add a third: That the Republican Party isn’t offering a very compelling alternative right now, and so Obama’s numbers are, in part, a relative judgment given the options available to voters. It’s easier to say someone is doing a bad job when there’s someone you can point to who looks like they’re doing, or at least could do, a better one.