State of the Union: Obama vs. Congress in Prime Time
Policy + Politics

State of the Union: Obama vs. Congress in Prime Time

  • Obama’s numbers are rising thanks to low gas prices and a better economy
  • Americans are still skeptical that Washington can overcome “gridlock”
  • The tone of Obama’s speech could predict how much gets done in D.C.

As he delivers his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama is enjoying a resurgence in popularity that largely stems from the economic recovery and Americans’ delight over the steep drop in gasoline prices.

Three new national surveys show that while the public is far from ecstatic over Obama’s stewardship, his approval rating is far superior to that of Republican and Democratic lawmakers – and he continues to command the attention of the nation even with just two years remaining in his second term. The new polling results are as follows:

Related: How Obama’s State of the Union Will Be Different Tonight

A Washington Post-ABC News survey found that 50 percent of Americans now approve of Obama’s job handling, his highest approval rating since spring of 2013. His standing is nine points higher than it was in December and seven points higher than in October, just before the GOP swept to control of both the Senate and House in the November midterms.

A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll shows Obama with a 46 percent approval rating, which is up four points since shortly before November. While half the public said the past year brought important improvements in the economy and employment, they were less inclined to credit the president and Congress. Yet an analysis of the poll sees the prospects for Obama’s standing to improve even more if the economic recovery remains on track.

A Zogby Analytics survey found that Obama’s job approval had bumped up to 45 percent, or a two-point increase from his December standing. A majority – or 51 percent – still disapprove of his job performance. The president is doing better among men than women. And his 54 percent to 40 percent approval rating among young people 18 to 29 years of age is fairly good, but substantially below the 61 percent support he garnered from that same group in 2012.

Related: Obama’s Budget Strategy Taxes the Rich to Give to the Middle Class   

There’s little doubt that the upswing in the economy – with a steady growth in jobs, expanding Gross Domestic Product and a plummeting deficit – has improved the public’s mood. Some 41 percent now believes the state of the nation’s economy is “excellent” or “good,” compared with just 27 percent in October, The Washington Post survey reported.

Meanwhile, half of those surveyed by The Wall Street Journal–NBC News poll said the economy has improved “a lot” or “somewhat,” while nearly a third said it had improved “a little.”

Yet Americans remain disenchanted with gridlock in Washington; many are skeptical there will be dramatic changes, even with Republicans controlling Congress for the first time in eight years. Only 27 percent of voters feel the U.S. is headed in the right direction, the Zogby analysis said, while 57 percent think things are “off on the wrong track.”

Related: Republican Pushback on Obama’s Tax Plan Has Begun

In terms of who is doing a better job – Obama or lawmakers – voters by a two-to-one margin pick the president, said Zogby. More Americans also think Obama has better ideas than the Republicans on helping more students afford college, dealing with climate change, helping the middle class and creating jobs, The Washington Post-ABC News survey said. The Republicans top Obama on only one question (44 percent to 38 percent): who’s doing a better job of encouraging economic development.

There’s been a lot of speculation in recent days as to whether the president will use his enhanced standing and the improved economy to take a hard line with Congress in his speech tonight or be more conciliatory. The tone and tenor of the White House since the Democratic debacle at the polls in November has been anything but conciliatory – and Obama seems as defiant as ever.

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