Since the beginning of the year, Obama has seen an eight-point increase in his approval ratings overall. That has been bolstered by big gains among Democrats (+10), independents (+10), Hispanics (+11) and people with post-graduate degrees (+10). Only with one group has he seen a decline: Republicans, who've dropped one point, with very little room to drop further.
It is not the case that a majority of every group views Obama positively. Whites and men are still more likely than not to disapprove of his job performance in both Gallup's and Fox News's polls. White male Republicans think Obama's not doing a good job — and are the group most strongly supportive of Donald Trump.
As we've noted before, there's clearly a link between the advent of the 2016 campaign and Obama's improved numbers. He was viewed positively in 2012 as he was actively campaigning for himself, but he was viewed very poorly in 2014 as Republicans used him as a punching bag. Most of the critique over the past 18 months has been targeting Hillary Clinton, not him, so it seems natural that he'd be seen as doing better.
This effect is responsible for the newfound popularity of another president: George W. Bush. He's now about as popular as Bill Clinton, thanks in part to staying off the campaign trail while Clinton advocates for his wife. Nothing makes a politician less popular than politics.
It seems hard to reconcile approval of Obama with another bit of data that has threaded through recent polls: Most Americans see the country headed on the wrong path. In that CNN-ORC poll, 59 percent of Americans say the country's headed in the wrong direction — even as 54 percent say that Obama's doing a good job.
Part of this may be explained by John Harwood at the New York Times. He writes:
Liberals watching MSNBC, for instance, receive a steady diet of unflattering reports about the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, that darkens their view of the country’s direction.“Some of those people say we’re on the wrong track because we have a dangerous, delusional and unqualified Republican nominee for president,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster.
In the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, there's some evidence that this may be the case. More than a third of those with strongly favorable views of Obama also say the country is on the wrong track. More than 60 percent of those who view him somewhat favorably say the same. More than half of black voters, one of the strongest demographic groups for Obama, also view the country as headed on the wrong track.
It's not on the graph above, but more than half of those who view Trump strongly unfavorably also think America's headed on the wrong track. It's hard to suss out where the lines are on this, but significant overlap between people who worry about the future of the country and who disapprove of Trump comports with Harwood's thesis.
Whatever the cause, Obama's approval is good news for Hillary Clinton. There's a correlation between approval for the sitting president and how his party fares in the general election. Alan Abramowitz, writing for Sabato's Crystal Ball last year, figured that a 50 percent approval for Obama would yield 50 percent support for the Democrat in November. Having Obama at 55 percent would bump that figure to 51 percent of the popular vote. There are a ton of variables that affect this in other ways, but history has shown a link.
We'll see how this evolves over the course of the campaign. As Republicans start running against Clinton and the "Obama-Clinton" foreign policy, Obama's numbers may change. As it stands, though, Obama is popular. And the various emails I expect to receive from Trump supporters who don't know anyone who likes the president will do more to prove the point, based on Gallup's numbers, than to undermine it.