An Obama Comeback?

We’ve heard a lot lately about President Obama’s political resurgence. It started, we are told, with the lame duck session of Congress and got another boost from the Tucson shootings. Contrary to that narrative, some, like Byron York, saw Obama’s performance at the Arizona memorial service as an act of political opportunism:

[S]ince it was impossible to tie the violence in Tucson to Republican rhetoric, the president couldn’t very well use the shootings as the premise for a national conversation about the tone of political debate, could he? Yes, he could. It might seem like a stretch — even to a calculating Democratic strategist — for Obama to portray Jared Loughner’s insanity as the proper starting point for a national debate about civility in politics. Yet that is what he did. …
In Tucson, Obama played good cop to their bad cop by assuring everyone that rhetoric had not motivated the violence. But he still brought up the topic because, he said, it had “been discussed in recent days.” Of course, it would not have been discussed in recent days had his supporters not made so many unfair accusations.
Some Democratic strategists hope Obama can capitalize on Tucson the way Bill Clinton capitalized on Oklahoma City. Perhaps he’ll be able to, and perhaps he won’t. But he’s already trying.

I’ve been following Rasmussen Reports for a while now, watching for evidence of an Obama resurgence in the eyes of voters. Has it happened? Well, sort of. This graph of Obama’s “approval rating”–the difference between the number of those who strongly approve of his performance and those who strongly disapprove–shows the trend:
obama_approval_index_january_16_2011.jpg
The number who strongly approve of Obama’s performance–a distinct minority–has remained rather constant. What I find interesting is that the number who strongly disapprove, a plurality of the electorate, has been trending downward ever since the November election. I don’t think this is because conservatives and moderates are finding Obama’s policies any more palatable. Rather, I suspect it is because, after the Republicans’ November sweep, they are finding the Democrats in general, and the President in particular, less threatening. As a result, strong disapproval is softening into garden variety disapproval.
This interpretation is supported by Obama’s overall approval/disapproval numbers, which currently stand at a weak 44-55. (There may be some background noise in today’s numbers, as Obama has generally done a little better than that lately.) Somewhat ironically, it appears that the main trend we have seen since November in the public’s attitude toward President Obama has been a mellowing in the negative views of conservatives and moderates.
In short, if Obama’s Tucson speech gave his public standing a boost, there isn’t yet any clear sign of it.

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