Obama Approval Moves Ahead Though Challenges Remain

Poll: Obama Approval Rises, But Hazards Remain

ByABC News
January 17, 2011, 6:28 PM

Jan. 18, 2011 -- Aided by his response to the Tucson shootings, popular lame-duck legislation and a hint of economic relief, Barack Obama has matched his highest job approval rating in more than a year in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, with his ratings for empathy likewise rebounding.

It's a remarkable turnaround for a president so recently hammered in the 2010 midterm elections. Yet the public's mood remains glum, with attendant, continuing hazards for the president and Congress alike.

Fifty-four percent now approve of Obama's job performance, up 5 points from last month and 8 points above his career low in September. And given overwhelming approval of his response to the Tucson attack, Americans by an 18-point margin, 58-40 percent, say Obama "understands the problems of people like you." That's up from a mere 2-point split, 50-48 percent, in September.

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In another critical shift, albeit still with much room for improvement, 35 percent say Obama's economic program is making the economy better, while 24 percent say he's making it worse -- the positive result up by 5 points since September, the negative down by 9. Strikingly, the view that Obama's made the economy worse has eased most broadly in an unexpected quarter: down by 17 points among Republicans.

Concurrently, the president has inched back ahead in trust to handle the economy, a month after the GOP caught up with him on this issue for the first time.

Overall, just 13 percent describe the nation's economy positively; while still miserably low, that's up a 4 points from October to the most since February 2008. More significantly, the number describing the nation's economy as "poor" is down by 8 points since October, to 41 percent in this new survey, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates.

Seventy-two percent say the economy should be a highest-priority issue for Obama and the Congress, far surpassing all others. And it's still plenty bad enough to keep the public in a snit: While 38 percent say the country is heading in the right direction, up 7 points since last month and the most since March, that nonetheless leaves 60 percent who continue to say the country is headed seriously off on the wrong track.