President Obama’s numbers are up. After averaging less than 47% percent approval for his second year in office, Obama’s approval is now up to 50% again. By an 8 point margin more Americans approve of the job he’s doing than disapprove—the largest margin since May.
President Obama probably owes the jump to a string of legislative successes—the extension of tax cuts that affect the middle class, the passage of a sweeping food safety bill, the ratification of New START, and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy—as well as to his deft handling of the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her constituents. It probably also owes something to the slowly improving economy.
But it also doesn’t mean much. The fact that Obama’s numbers were so bad last year—or that they are improving now—tells us very little about his prospects for reelection in 2012. Two years is a long time in politics. Two of the three recent presidents with approval numbers lower than Obama’s in their second year—Carter, Reagan, and Clinton—went on two win a second term.
What primarily will determine his chances of being reelected is whether the economy does go on to improve substantially. Greg Sargent notes this morning that in spite of Obama’s improving numbers an ABC poll finds that more than half of Americans still disapprove of the way he has handled the economy. With unemployment still over 9% that the number of Americans who disapprove is only going to go up, unless Obama can find some way to turn the economy around, and do it soon.