President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night. And arguably for the first time, he can pitch his economic record as a success.
But he must do so cautiously.
Multiple recent polls have shown a real shift toward the idea that Obama has been good for the economy. The most recent is a Washington Post-ABC News poll that shows a plurality of Americans -- 42 percent -- say that Obama's policies have helped the economy. That's 15 points higher than the 27 percent who think he has harmed it. Another 29 percent say he has made no difference.
(A Pew poll last week showed much the same thing, with the split at 38/28 positive -- the first time since 2009 that more think he has helped than hurt.)
Perhaps more telling, the WaPo-ABC poll shows the economy is now the most oft-cited reason for people who think the nation is on the right track. Fully 41 percent of them say the economy is biggest reason the country is doing well. Among those who say the nation is on the wrong track, just 21 percent cite the economy as the biggest reason (notably, 29 percent in group cites multiple reasons).
But don't expect Obama to start gloating too much.
That's because, while it appears to be a net-positive for the president right now, it's hardly a positive overall. Despite the momentum, Americans say by 44 to 38 that Republicans have better ideas on economic development (balanced by Obama’s 5-point edge on creating jobs). And while the 41 percent who rate the economy favorably is an eight-year high, a clear majority of Americans -- 58 percent -- still say the economy is"not so good" or "poor."
A big reason? Many think that the recovery, while real, skews disproportionately in favor of the wealthy. Fifty percent agree with this statement, while 38 percent say it has helped all income levels. (Interestingly, almost every demographic tilts toward an uneven recovery in favor of the wealthy -- including Republican and Democrat, rich and poor.)
Among those who aren't wealthy, many still see their own financial situation as tenuous. About 6 in 10 (62 percent) of Americans say they are "very" or "somewhat" worried about being able to maintain their standard of living. That's not much lower than it was at the height of the recession, and among those making less than $50,000 per year, about two-thirds (68 percent) say they are still worried.
And finally, it's clear that falling gasoline prices have contributed significantly to rosier views of the economy and Obama's record. But that very same metric that has people feeling better about the economy is also highly volatile, and a spike in gas prices could just as easily kill the perception of economic momentum that has characterized the past couple months.
Which is a long way of saying that Obama will promote his economic record tonight; but his speech won't -- and can't -- be anything amounting to a victory dance.