Can Obama keep rising?

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President Obama is starting February with his best poll numbers in 18 months. But how much higher can he go?

Surveys showing the president hitting 50 percent approval represent a substantial comeback for Obama, who just months earlier saw his party clobbered in the midterms and his ratings into the high-30s. 

Now, he is being buoyed by dramatic rebounds among Hispanics, independents, and millennials, in particular.

As a result, the White House has new momentum and confidence headed into a series of battles with a Republican-controlled Congress. 

The numbers have given the White House a coating of Teflon when it commits errors that might have been damning a year ago. It has also nudged Democrats to unify around the president. 

Critics of the administration say that the president is reaping the political benefits of factors he did not create, including declining gas prices and broader economic trends. 

{mosads}They expect a Republican resurgence once Obama is forced to play defense by vetoing GOP-backed legislation that will soon begin to pile up on his desk. 

Even if the economy continues to hum along, they see administrative missteps like the ones that dominated the past year again taking their toll.

Polling experts say there’s reason for the president to feel encouraged — but also to think that there’s a limit on how much more he can improve.

For one, the range of the president’s approval rating over the course of his presidency has been smaller than any modern president with the exception of Gerald Ford, says Charles Franklin, a Marquette University professor and the co-founder of 

His numbers have rarely inched above the low-50s, and rarely fallen below the low-40s.

Stalwart support from Democrats has provided Obama with a solid floor. But he appears to have an equally impenetrable ceiling, thanks to unflinching Republican opposition. 

Obama’s most recent gains can be attributed to improvements among some Democrats and independents. Further gains might be hard to attain.

“Unless something dramatically changes with Republicans, which I don’t expect to happen, it’s very, very difficult to see Obama’s approval making big gains,” Franklin said. 

Obama has also benefited from major improvements with two core demographic groups.

According to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post survey, Obama’s bounce has been driven largely by a rebound among millennials — whose support for him has risen 19 points since December — and Hispanics, who were likely encouraged by his executive action on immigration. Obama is up 22 points among Hispanics.

That’s good news — but there are caveats.

There’s not another obvious single issue such as immigration where Obama can make a quick, dramatic gain. And relying too much on millennials can be a dangerous game.

“Eighteen-29-year-olds are kind of a fickle group that tend to be blown by the current political winds,” Franklin said. “I wouldn’t count on that group being necessarily stable going forward.”

Obama may also be benefiting from the fine print of recent polls, said Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

In the build-up to the November midterms, polling focused heavily on likely voters — a group that tilts more toward Republicans, particularly in a midterm election year, than does the larger universe of all registered voters. 

With many polls switching back to registered-voter models now that the election is over, the president is seeing a statistical boost.

“Who you poll goes a long way to determining what the polls say,” Brown said.

Despite all the potential limitations, experts do see reasons for the West Wing to be optimistic. In the same ABC News poll, Obama saw his numbers jump 11 points among conservatives, and 11 points among men, who tend to favor Republicans. 

That’s rare — and a testament to improving economic sentiment. 

Some 41 percent of Americans say the economy is now in “good shape,” up from 27 percent just three months ago — and higher than at any point since before the recession.

Even if Obama doesn’t continue to see surging poll numbers, maintaining the status quo could still be a win. 

Presidents at or above 50 percent are generally viewed as an asset to their party and fellow candidates rather than a liability, Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said.

And there’s anecdotal evidence Obama is reaping the benefits of stronger poll numbers. 

House Democrats leapt to their feet when the president implored them last Thursday to be proud — not shy or defensive — of what they care about. The botched rollout of his plan to tax college savings accounts faded from the headlines relatively quickly.

“They’ll run from you like crazy if they sense there’s a problem, as we could see in the last election,” said Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “But now we’ve got a situation where both the mistakes of the Republicans and the strength of Obama is fortifying a lot of Democrats’ backbone.”

Republicans say they aren’t worried, though. 

Vetoes of popular legislation such as a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline should provide the GOP with an opportunity to put Obama back on the defensive, Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said. 

So too could struggles on the international stage.

Moreover, Bonjean argued, Obama will struggle to hold attention as 2016 presidential candidates dominate the headlines more and more.

“These are not glowing indications that the president is doing a fantastic job, it’s just an aberration,” he said. 

“With the way the administration has run the past six years, they have a really good chance of having those numbers plummet over more mistakes on the domestic and international stage.”

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