The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

President Obama is winning on a foreign policy issue — for a change

President Obama makes a face while talking about the U.S. Congress, before signing an Executive Order in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, July 31, 2014. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

Get ready to pop the champagne, White House. For the first time since January, President Obama is polling a 50 percent approval rating on an issue: his handling of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

That is not a typo: It has been eight months since Obama last cracked half the American public on any given issue -- foreign policy or otherwise -- in Washington Post/ABC News polling.

The newest WaPo-ABC poll shows 50 percent approve of Obama's handling of the Islamic State, as compared to 44 percent who disapprove. That's an improvement from August, when the question referenced only Iraq and not Syria, and 42 percent of Americans gave Obama a vote of confidence.

Obama's new polling heights come as Americans overwhelmingly approve of the airstrikes he ordered in Syria. Seven in 10 Americans (70 percent) support the airstrikes -- up from 65 percent in early September. His decision to send American forces to train Iraqi troops and coordinate airstrikes against the Islamic State in that country is less popular, but still gets positive marks: 53 percent support and 44 percent opposition.

The most supportive political group on each of these counts is Republicans, 80 percent of whom back the airstrikes in Syria and 60 percent of whom support the effort in Iraq. At the same time, these very same Republicans only give Obama a 30 percent overall approval rating on his handling of the Islamic State -- which depresses the topline number above.

So why do Republicans love Obama's policies on the Islamic State but not his handling of it?

Well, partisanship is undoubtedly a factor. The separate Syria and Iraq questions don't mention Obama by name; the first question does. And anytime you do that, it's going to be harder for Republicans to say "yes."

But the issue is also bigger than just the current policies. Plenty of questions have been raised about the rise of the Islamic State and whether the administration missed the boat, and Obama's decision to withdraw from Iraq continues to be a flash point given how quickly the Iraqi military lost ground to the Islamic State. Those two things, among others, could certainly color Republicans' overall approval of Obama when it comes to the Islamic State.

Indeed, it's actually a tribute to the popularity of Obama's decisions that he gets even 30 percent of Republicans. And that's a big reason this is the first time he's cracked 50 percent on an issue.

Here's how Obama fares on previous foreign policy issues tested by WaPo-ABC polls this year:

46 percent: Malaysian Airline plane being shot down over Ukraine (7/27)

45 percent: situation in Afghanistan (6/1)

42 percent: situation in Iraq (8/17)

39 percent: situation between Israel and Palestinians (7/27)

39 percent: Bowe Bergdahl situation (6/8)

39 percent: situation with Iran (1/23)

38 percent: international affairs (9/7)

34 percent: situation involving Russia and Ukraine (4/27)

33 percent: situation in Syria (1/23)

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this post.