Steady as He Goes

On Monday, a handful of polls came out that showed President Obama in a bad place, with flagging approval ratings and an unhappy public. I argued that those results had more to do with methodology than the actual mood of the public, but the conventional wisdom seems to be that, yes, Obama has a problem.

Well, a new set of polls from Reuters and the Pew Research Center paint a different picture—Obama is doing well, and a majority of Americans want to see him reelected. According to the Reuters poll, taken from March 8 to 11, 50 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s performance, and 48 percent disapprove. What’s more, the percentage of Americans who say the economy is on the right track has increased to 37 percent, from 32 percent in February.

The Pew poll is even more optimistic. In their survey, conducted during the same period, Pew found that 50 percent of Americans approved of President Obama. What’s more, in a head-to-head matchup, 54 percent said they would back Obama over Romney, whose favorability has declined to 29 percent. That result isn’t as significant as it looks—in 1988, for example, Michael Dukakis led George H.W. Bush most of the year—but it is a sign that Romney’s high unfavorables are hurting him with a wide swath of the public. Overall, most Americans (59 percent) believe that Obama will defeat Romney if he is the nominee (68 percent say the same for Rick Santorum). There’s also good news for the Democratic Party writ large; 49 percent have a favorable view of Democrats, compared to the 36 percent who favor the GOP.

On the economy, however, the results aren’t too good, and they underscore the extent to which Obama is still vulnerable. Eighty-nine percent say that economic conditions are either fair or poor—unchanged from last month but a slight decline from December—and only 44 percent say that the economy will be better in a year, a sign of low economic optimism.

As for the polling sample, it gives relative parity to both Republican and Democratic voters, though it has a somewhat lower proportion of registered voters than the oft-cited New York Times/CBS News survey. Even still, it’s in line with the trio of polls released yesterday that showed Obama with a steady approval rating in the high 40s. Which is to say two things: Obama isn’t in any particular trouble, and we should stay aware of a little thing called statistical variation.