Obama enjoys jump in approval ratings

President Obama has seen his Gallup poll numbers jump into favorability for the first time since July.

The rise in popularity arrives after a bruising defeat for Republicans over extending the payroll tax cut, a fight Democrats had hoped to use to their advantage.

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For the first time since July, more people view President Obama favorably than unfavorably, according to Gallup's tracking poll of the president's job approval rating.

Obama's approval numbers spiked five percentage points the week before Christmas, Gallup found, with 47 percent approving and 45 percent disapproving between Dec. 21 and 23.

The president's numbers were under water in the first weeks of December. Fifty percent of those polled by Gallup disapproved of Obama's job performance at mid-month, but his approval rating his climbed since then.

Obama had a rough summer, struggling to win congressional approval of legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

After ordering the killing of Osama bin laden, Obama saw his poll numbers soar in May. But the bin Laden bounce ended up being short-lived, as just a few weeks after the al Qaeda leader's death the president's approval ratings slipped into the negative again.

It's unclear whether the latest bounce will last longer, but it does seem clear that Republicans have injured themselves politically in the tax fight. The numbers can't help but lift the mood at the White House and in Chicago, where Obama's campaign team is awaiting a Republican challenger.

Since August, Obama has set himself up as an advocate for the middle class and a foil for a dysfunctional Congress.

Only 12.7 percent of voters approve of Congress's performance, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, compared to 84 percent who disapprove.

The payroll fight ended up playing into that storyline. House and Senate Republicans agreed that the two percentage point cut to the payroll tax should be extended for a year, even though many conservatives questioned the economic wisdom of the cuts, which some noted would take funding away from Social Security. They also agreed to tie in a yearlong extension of federal unemployment benefits.

But Democrats and Republicans disagreed over how to pay for the cuts. The White House and Democrats pressed for a surtax on millionaires, while Republicans pushed for cuts to domestic spending.

After those differences could not be resolved, Senate leaders agreed to a two-month extension of the payroll tax and forced Obama to agree to include a provision meant to force the White House to make a decision on whether to approve the controversial Keystone oil sands pipeline.

It appeared Republicans had won a nice end-of-year political victory, but rank-and-file House Republicans rejected the deal, saying they wanted a yearlong extension approved.

Party heavyweights such as Republican strategist Karl Rove and GOP Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) warned House Republicans their opposition to the two-month deal was hurting the GOP, and the conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal said the confusing GOP stance on the payroll tax threatened to hand Obama a second term.

"It may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters after the House approved the two-month extension.

Now the White House appears to be enjoying the fruit of the fight, given the Gallup numbers and other recent polls that suggest the president is getting a bump.

Obama, now vacationing in Hawaii, has been careful about taking a victory lap, crediting his followers on Twitter for the victory and pressing Congress to agree to extend the payroll tax for the rest of 2012.

That fight will begin in January, and Republicans could have more leverage as they make their arguments for how to pay for continuing the tax cut.

But the White House and Senate Democrats are happy to continue the discussion, which they think will help them politically as they argue for millionaires to pay more taxes to pay for the payroll cut.

This story was posted on Dec. 26 at 7:07 p.m. and was updated on Dec. 27 at 7:20 a.m.