A bare 51 percent majority of the public approves of President Obama's job performance in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, while 45 percent disapproves. Although tepidly positive, those are Obama's best numbers since May 2013 in Post-ABC surveys.
The movement in his ratings — which we would emphasize has not yet been verified in other public polls — has been slight on a month-to-month basis. But his ratings have moved in a positive direction in two consecutive Post-ABC surveys. In May and July, Obama's ratings were more negative than positive, with 45 percent to 46 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving of his performance. That tipped the other way in September, to 49 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval. And that slight shift has continued in the latest survey.
Obama's rebound is more striking compared with one year ago. Last October, just before Democrats' major losses in the 2014 midterm elections, his approval ratings ranged between 40 percent and 43 percent — the lowest of his presidency. "Strong" disapproval of Obama outpaced strong approval by a roughly 2-to-1 margin.
Today, not only is his approval rating up 11 points from its lowest point, but strong opinions of him are more closely divided; 35 percent strongly disapprove, while 28 percent strongly approve.
There are a few reasons for this. Among them: The unemployment rate has continued to decline as the economy expands, gas prices are low, and the Supreme Court affirmed the legality of his signature Affordable Care Act and ruled that gay marriage is legal in all states. Democrats in Congress also helped Obama fend off a challenge to his multinational nuclear agreement with Iran.
The biggest political shift has been a focus on the 2016 presidential race to succeed Obama, though his record has been a key target in Republican primary debates. Although Obama will not be on the ballot in 2016, his approval ratings are likely to have an effect on Democrats' chances of winning a third consecutive term in the White House.
Obama's latest big move — announced last week — is to keep about 10,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Despite years of polling showing a strong desire to end U.S. troop presence there, 50 percent of those surveyed in the Post-ABC poll support this decision, while 39 percent oppose it. The result is not far from support in a December Post-ABC poll for keeping 10,000 members of U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan this year for training and counterinsurgency purposes. Then, 54 percent supported Obama's decision, while 43 percent were opposed.
The most notable finding on this question is the lack of partisan division. Just more than half of Democrats and independents support the decision (53 and 51 percent, respectively). Among Republicans, 47 percent support Obama's troop plan, while 42 percent oppose it, marking a rare instance of GOP support for Obama's actions.
This is the first release from the new Post-ABC poll. New results on the Democratic primary race will be released Tuesday at 7 a.m. Eastern time.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Oct. 15 to 18 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, including land-line and cellphone respondents. Full results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.