President Obama’s approval rating has softened since registering a sharp upward spike early this year, but he has regained some of the ground lost to Republicans during and after their big victories in the 2014 midterm elections, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Changes in public attitudes over the past few months are relatively small, but the new survey suggests that the 2014 elections, much as the 2012 elections, have failed so far to have much lasting impact on impressions of the state of politics in Washington or of the relative balance between Obama and Republicans in Congress.
The president’s overall approval rating stands at 47 percent in the new survey, ticking down from 50 percent in January. Disapproval inched up 3 points to 47 percent, erasing a positive net margin. Those who strongly disapprove of his performance outnumber those who strongly approve by 10 points.
The January finding represented a dramatic increase for the president, from a post-election low of 41 percent approval in December. Other surveys during the first weeks of the year also found increases, indicating a significant bounce back for a president whose party had just lost control of the Senate and suffered major losses elsewhere.
But Obama has not been able to keep his approval rating at or above the 50 percent mark, with many public polls in the same range as the Post-ABC survey, though he remains higher than he was throughout most of 2014.
One bright spot for the president is continued improvement in perceptions of his handling of the economy. His economic approval rating today is 49 percent positive and 46 percent negative, the first time he has been in net positive territory since January 2013, just as he was about to be sworn in for his second term and was enjoying the glow of his reelection victory.
The improvement in Obama’s standing on the economy tracks the mostly steady stream of better economic statistics over the past few months. Although overall impressions of the economy remain negative, with 59 percent saying it is “not so good” or “poor,” this is lower than 72 percent last fall and any previous point in Obama’s presidency .
A key to changes since the midterm elections is the rising support among independents. Obama’s approval rating today is 11 points higher among independents than it was last October and his economic approval is 15 points higher.
Public approval of Congress remains low, though not as low as it was in the year after the partial shutdown of the government in October 2013. Today, 22 percent of Americans say they approve of the way Congress is doing its job — a 7 point increase since last September. with the shift driven by a rise in support among independents and Republicans.
Congressional Democrats get higher approval ratings than congressional Republicans, and the gap has widened since last fall. In October, 30 percent said they approved of congressional Democrats compared with 25 percent who approved of congressional Republicans. In the new survey, approval of congressional Democrats has risen to 38 percent while congressional Republicans are up a slight 2 points, to 27 percent.
By a margin of 7 points, Americans say Obama is taking a stronger leadership role than congressional Republicans in Washington these days, a 5-point boost since January. Around this time four years ago, after the Republicans had captured the House and made historic gains in the midterm elections, Republicans enjoyed a 7-point advantage.
Coupled with that are much more positive reactions among those who see Obama as taking the stronger leadership role. Among those who see Obama in the dominant role, more than seven in 10 say that is a good thing. Among those who say Republicans are now taking the lead, not quite six in 10 call that a positive development.
Obama has also rebounded on the question of who is more trusted to deal with the economy. The current poll found the public evenly divided, with 44 percent citing Obama and an equal percent naming Republicans. Last December, Republicans had a 9-point advantage.
Underscoring the sharp partisan divisions in the country, the public has a split view on whether they trust Obama or congressional Republicans more to deal with the country’s main problems, with Obama at 42 percent and Republicans at 41 percent. The GOP had a narrow advantage on this question in December and Obama had the edge in January.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted March 26 to 29 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults interviewed by telephone, including 335 cellphone-only respondents. The overall margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.