Obama Job Approval Up Most Among Conservative Democrats

Obama Job Approval Up Most Among Conservative Democrats

Obama Job Approval Up Most Among Conservative Democrats

The FINANCIAL -- President Barack Obama's job approval has increased from 46% in October 2015 to 52% last month. His ratings have risen among most party and ideological groups, but his largest gain -- 13 percentage points -- has come among conservative Democrats. Regardless of their ideology, Republicans' opinions of Obama are virtually unchanged.

Over the past year, moderate Democrats and liberal Democrats have shown eight- and six-point increases, respectively. Those changes are smaller than the change among conservative Democrats, in part because liberal and moderate Democrats already had high approval ratings of Obama.

Approval among non-leaning independents -- those who initially identify as political independents and say they do not lean toward either the Democratic or Republican Party -- also increased significantly over the past year, from 38% to 46%.

Liberal Democrats currently give Obama his highest approval rating at 93%. His ratings decrease moving rightward on the political spectrum to a low of 7% approval among conservative Republicans. Although the precise level of support for Obama among the various political and ideological groups has varied over the course of his presidency, the rank order of the groups has been consistent, according to Gallup.

In this analysis, partisanship is based on a respondent's self-identification as a Republican, independent or Democrat. Independents are subsequently asked if they lean more to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Party leaners are grouped with those who initially identify with the relevant party, since partisan leaners often share similar opinions with party identifiers. Ideological orientation is also based on self-identification as a liberal, moderate or conservative.

The latest results are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted throughout September. Obama's 52% average job approval rating last month ties January 2013 and June 2016 ratings as the best monthly averages during his second term in office. The highest monthly average approval rating he has had in his presidency was 65% in May 2009, during the "honeymoon" phase of his presidency. He also averaged 66% job approval between his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, and the end of that month.

The six-point improvement in Obama's job approval rating over the past year is similar to what occurred leading up to his re-election in 2012. His approval rating increased seven points from November 2011 (43%) to October 2012 (50%).

Back then, Obama's approval rating increased a substantial 18 points among conservative Democrats -- more than any other political group. He also enjoyed double-digit increases among liberal Democrats, moderate Democrats and non-leaning independents. His job approval rating declined over the course of that year among Republicans, who mostly supported GOP nominee Mitt Romney in his attempt to deny Obama a second term as president in the 2012 election.

These trends indicate that opinions of the president become more politicized during a presidential election year, a time when Americans' partisanship is continually reinforced by news coverage and discussion of the campaign. Conservative Democrats likely agree less with a liberal Democratic president's policies and actions than moderate or liberal Democrats do. As a result, they may be less inclined to approve of the job he is doing in nonelection years when political news coverage may be focused more on what the president is doing in office and less on party politics. When the discussion turns to re-electing the president, or choosing his successor, as is the case this year, a person's attachment to the political party becomes more influential than other considerations in how they evaluate the president's performance.

Bottom Line

For most of Barack Obama's White House career, less than half of Americans have approved of the job he is doing. Now, in his last year in office, as attention turns to finding his successor and evaluating his historical legacy, Americans are seeing him in a more positive light.

Obama's recent approval ratings have consistently been above 50% and among the best of his second term. That rise has mostly been fueled by increased support from Democrats of all ideological orientations, especially conservative Democrats. As a result, the gap between Democrats who are conservative and those who are moderate and liberal has narrowed.

The increase among Democratic groups has likely been aided by the presidential campaign, which serves to activate Americans' partisanship and thus cause them to view politicians of their preferred party more positively.

The most obvious historical parallel to Obama's eighth-year increase from below 50% approval to above it is that of Ronald Reagan. Reagan's job approval ratings pushed above 50% in 1988, creating a favorable political environment for George H.W. Bush to win the political equivalent of a third Reagan term. Democrats surely hope that they can capitalize on a similar trend and see the party win a rare third consecutive presidential election.