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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘Slow Warming’ Toward Obama in New Poll

The National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein reports that a “slow warming trend toward President Obama continued in the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll,” with 30 percent of respondents agreeing that the president has “changed his approach in office” for the better, during the past several months, while only 13 percent said he had changed it for the worse (Half saw no change).
Brownstein believes that the poll indicates that “some voters may be giving Obama a second look as he has repositioned himself with a series of high-profile bipartisan legislative agreements and a new rhetorical emphasis on international competitiveness.” Brownstein adds,

even in groups that have been skeptical of the president, pluralities believe that he is moving in the right direction. Independents, seniors, and college-educated white men all broke solidly for Republicans in the 2010 midterm landslide. But about 30 percent of each group said they believed that Obama’s approach to office was improving. In each case, that was at least double the share that said his performance was deteriorating.
…Most political scientists and electoral strategists agree that a president’s approval rating is the best barometer of his chances for reelection, and on that front, Obama continued to improve his standing, although only gradually.
In the latest survey, 49 percent of those polled said they approved of Obama’s performance as president, and 44 percent disapproved. That’s a change only within the margin of error since the December Heartland Monitor, when 48 percent approved and 46 percent disapproved. Still, Obama’s approval rating is the highest the poll has recorded for him since September 2009.

In addition, Brownstein reports that for the first time since September ’09, more independents approved than disapproved of Obama’s performance (47-43 percent). Even more encouraging, Brownstein notes that “the fire of intense opposition to Obama seems to be slightly cooling,” down 9 percent from August, and “The gap between Obama’s strong supporters and fervent detractors is the narrowest it has been since January of 2010.”
However, the poll indicates that President Obama still hasn’t made much headway with whites in particular:

Obama’s approval rating among whites remained at just 39 percent; it hasn’t cracked 40 percent since September 2009…As in those earlier polls, a solid plurality of whites placed more trust in Republicans…In April 2009, whites put more trust in Obama over Republicans, by 17 percentage points; now whites trust Republicans over him, by 14 points…In no Heartland Monitor since last April have more than one-quarter of whites said that Obama’s agenda is increasing their opportunities.

The trendline may nonetheless be bending in Obama’s direction, as Brownstein concludes:

Asked about the impact of the president’s policies, 36 percent say that his actions have already made the country significantly worse off. Only 13 percent say that the country is already significantly better off because of his policies, but another 44 percent say that although Obama’s efforts have not yet produced significant improvement, they are beginning to move the nation in the right direction.
That combined 57 percent, almost unchanged over the past year, represents Obama’s margin of hope. That is the potential majority coalition that still sees cause for optimism in his course, even if he hasn’t yet closed the sale.

It’s early, and a lot can change over the next 20 months. But with the economy improving, the “hopeful majority” may grow and provide President Obama with the edge he needs for a second term.

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