Obama's approval rating at 18-month high

President Obama will head into Tuesday’s State of the Union with his highest job approval numbers in 18 months, according to a new poll released Monday by The Washington Post and ABC News. 

Half of all Americans say they approve of the president’s handling of his job, while 44 percent disapprove. That represents a striking 9-percentage-point jump in approval from December.

More Americans say they trust Obama more than the Republican Congress to address the nation’s biggest problems, by a 40 percent-36 percent margin. That’s an 8-percentage-point swing since the election.

And 41 percent of Americans say the economy is now in “good shape,” up from 27 percent just three months ago. That’s the best economic sentiment since before the recession. The number of Americans who say the country is headed on the wrong track is down 12 percentage points from the fall.

The bounce has been driven largely by a rebound among millennials — whose support for the president has risen 19 percentage points since December — and Hispanics, who were likely encouraged by his executive action on immigration. Obama’s approval rating is up 22 percentage points among Hispanics, and 10 percentage points among Democrats.

But the president has also seen his numbers jump 11 percentage points among conservatives, and 11 percentage points among men, who tend to favor Republicans.

The rosy economic outlook has also given momentum to some of the president’s other policy priorities.

Americans back Obama 61 percent-22 percent over Republicans on the issue of college affordability. The president will propose a $60 billion plan to provide two free years of community college in his speech tomorrow, and 53 percent say they back that specific idea.

And voters back the president’s approach by a 17-percentage-point margin on climate change. Moreover, 61 percent of Americans agree with Obama that a decision on the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline should wait until the conclusion of the State Department’s needs assessment.

Obama holds an 8-percentage-point lead on who best helps the middle class, a 5-percentage-point lead on creating jobs and a 1-percentage-point advantage on home ownership. Earlier this month, he announced steps to reduce federally backed mortgage payments.

And a majority of voters say they don’t want Republicans to redefine full-time work as 40 hours per week under ObamaCare. The president has vowed to veto legislation changing the healthcare law’s requirement that employees working 30 hours per week should be offered health insurance by their employers.

Still, Republicans hold a 6-percentage-point advantage on encouraging economic development. 

And the president lacks a broad mandate. Voters divide evenly on the question of whether they’d like to see the country go in the direction Obama or congressional Republicans prefer, and are also split on whether the president should take executive action to bypass Congress.

A majority — 56 percent — also say Congress should block the president’s plans to expand deportation relief and work permits to 5 million illegal immigrants through executive action.