Barack Obama is getting more and more popular of late. A new Bloomberg Politics poll puts his job approval rating at an even 50 percent, a six-point jump from the survey they conducted in November. His favorability rating spiked nine points, all the way up to 57 percent. On specific issue areas that have been troublesome for the president in the past, like the economy and health care, his approval rating is inching up towards 50 percent. He’s getting positive marks for nominating Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Antonin Scalia, and nearly two-thirds of the country supports his push to have the Republican-controlled Senate hold hearings on the nomination.
Just to note, Obama's favorables have tended to be steady throughout the 8 years he's served as President (check the chart to RealClearPolitics tracking since 2010). He's barely dropped into the high 30s in specific polls at any given week and has for the most part stayed in the mid-45 percentile. There's a couple of reasons for that: 1) all of the opposition from Republicans/conservatives who didn't like him or his policies, and 2) a good number of Far Left progressives who were unhappy Obama never went far enough or fought harder on certain issues. Every President, you gotta admit, have had detractors from both sides. You can't please 'em all...
What's striking is how steady and stable that chart really looks. Yes, the numbers go up and down, but they do to a near mathematical precision of fluctuations and never show any abnormal spiking (the high numbers in 2010 are due to the freshness/hope factor of the voters giving a new President a pass for the first year in office).
If we compare Obama's performance numbers to other modern Presidents, we'd see his overall approval is actually pretty average.
Compared to Bill Clinton - a remarkably popular President in spite of the sex scandals - and Ronald Reagan - as popular as Clinton ever was, but suffering from a major scandal in the form of Iran-Contra - Obama is running average and below their approval numbers. Compared to Bush the Lesser, Obama is way above Dubya, and a lot of that was due to Dubya's second term being an unmitigated disaster of bad wars, mishandling of deadly natural disasters, and economic collapse.
Obama has been the steadying presence, both in terms of personality and performance. He's remarkably cool (and geekish) and low-key as a person, yet undeniably focused on getting work done on foreign and domestic issues. As a result, his numbers reflect the slow-and-steady elements of his administration.
So why the upward spike now?
One thing that might explain why Obama's popularity is going up now is because we're getting to the point where his legacy is under review, and in direct comparison to those who would succeed him in office. If you compare to Reagan's numbers on that Pew Research chart for example, his approval numbers went back up during 1987-88 as his last year became a moment to review Reagan's impact and his looming legacy. Back to AlterNet:
On the Democratic side, there’s been no real effort by either candidate to distance themselves from Obama. Quite the opposite, in fact. Hillary Clinton has been running hard on the idea that she represents a continuation of the Obama policy agenda. Bernie Sanders, while more critical of Obama on trade and health care, still makes clear that he broadly supports the president and his policies. Having both candidates embrace the president and promote his agenda helps remind Democrats why they liked him in the first place...
...Speaking of Republicans, it’s probably safe to assume that their primary is also helping Obama. The front-runner is galumphing about on the national stage and insulting just about every minority group as he encourages violence at his rallies and picks petty fights with women on TV... The entire process has been dominated by petty squabbling, personal attacks, and unguarded extremism, most of it driven by Trump’s Twitter feed. Even if you’re not inclined to be of fan of Obama’s, you probably can’t help but look at the GOP primary and think “well, he’s not as bad as these fools...”
He's also making a very marked contrast to his biggest opponents in Congress. Obama's fight over getting Garland nominated to the Supreme Court - where the Senate is openly refusing to even meet the judge - is a clear reminder of the high level of obstruction this Republican-controlled Congress has been generating to stall and deny anything Obama wanted for the nation.
If anything, Obama's critics on the Far Left have to be letting go of their disappointments in him. Add to that a growing number of Independents and Moderates who are looking at the future possibility of a President Trump, and suddenly realizing that maybe overturning the 22nd Amendment and keeping Obama for a third term is a good idea. Hence the uptick in Obama's job approval numbers.
What the 2016 Election is turning into is a Legacy election. Given the overall stability and economic recovery during the Obama years, and given the great strides in women's and gay rights under Obama's executive orders, and given the passage of health care reforms that are beginning to show positive results - everyone should be seriously following Richard Mayhew's health care updates on Balloon Juice - voters are going to have to look at what's at stake this November.
Strengthening the Democratic platform is the fact that whomever wins the nomination - Hillary or Bernie - is going to run strong on the idea that Obama's policies and positions - which are turning out to be popular with a majority of American voters - will be safe in Democratic hands. That whomever it is, that Democratic candidate is someone who will build on Obama's legacy rather than tear it down.
And that's the one Legacy Obama will leave behind when he leaves the Oval Office.
The Second Legacy Obama will leave behind is the wreckage of a once-powerful political party in his wake. The Republicans have been acting as obstructionists and denialists for eight straight years against Obama, leading up to clear acts of sedition and un-Constitutional behavior that even their Far Right media apologists can no longer explain away.
And now the Republican Party is facing its greatest internal conflict ever since the 1964 Goldwater uprising. Their own habit of purging out RINOs has crippled their leadership and ability to think outside of the Far Right mindset. The policy of obstruction has gotten to the point that they are exposing their Senate candidates to angry voters who will blame them for blocking a viable SCOTUS nominee over partisan excuses.
Topping it all is the likelihood of a monstrously unpopular public figure in Trump winning their Presidential nomination... and then leading the party to a massive Popular vote thumping in November that could well adversely affect the entire GOP ticket. All because the Republicans and their media cohorts spent 8 years demonizing Obama rather than work with him, thus creating a toxic environment of denial and ignorance within their own bubble that turned against their own.
Why this becomes Obama's second Legacy is due to the reality of what the Republican Party is going to be like after 2017: are they still going to be stuck in Denial mode, happily spewing and eating their own lies about how wrong and unpopular and evil Obama was; or are they finally going to wake up to the reality that it's not 1985 (or 1955, or 1925, or 1855) anymore, and that they need to purge themselves of their more hateful (and deceiving) elements in order to function as a political party again?
The Republicans' future all depends on how they come to terms with Obama. If they can't, they have no future. They'll just be stuck in the same repeating loop of hatred and denial and fear, while out here in the Real World the rest of us will be moving on and building on the foundation Obama leaves us.