WASHINGTON – A new poll Wednesday showed an upward tick in President Barack Obama's approval ratings as he faces a political storm over the Gulf oil spill and girds for crucial mid-term elections in November.
The Quinnipiac University survey showed that 48 percent of voters gave Obama a positive approval rating, compared to 43 percent who disapproved. Most respondents however were pessimistic on the White House's economic management.
It was the first time since December that the Quinnipiac Survey had shown Obama with a positive rating. In the last such poll, only 44 percent of voters approved of Obama's job performance, while 46 percent disapproved.
Respondents also told Quinnipiac, by 42 to 36 percent, that they would vote for a Democrat over a Republican in November's congressional elections, which will have a big impact on the rest of Obama's term, which ends in 2013.
That finding, if confirmed by future polls, could point to a significant turn in voter sentiment as the mid-term campaign heats up.
In March, voters questioned by Quinnipiac, had said they would vote Republican by a 44 to 39 percent margin. The poll was taken amid increasing focus on the conservative Tea Party movement's insurgent campaign against the Republican establishment.
The Quinnipiac survey was consistent with polls by other organizations which, while reflecting the sharp split in US political sentiment, have had Obama hovering around or just below the important 50 percent barrier.
A CBS poll published on Tuesday found that Obama's job rating was 47 percent, down four points from last month, but up from a low of 44 percent in March.
Obama's ratings "have been in the no man's land of just below parity for some time and now the question is whether this is the beginning of an upward trend or just a blip," said Peter Brown, Quinnipiac's assistant director of polling.
But as the economy posts steady growth and creates large numbers of jobs, improving sentiment has yet to trickle down to most voters, the poll suggests.
By 74 to 21 percent, those surveyed believe the recession, which began in December 2007, was still in effect, and by a 50-44 margin disapprove of the way Obama is handling the economy.
The 50 percent job approval barrier is traditionally seen as a crucial one for presidents, affecting their political standing and ability to attract support for their policies in Congress.
Data also suggests that presidents who keep their rating above the 50 percent barrier are able to mitigate the traditionally heavy losses their party faces in the first mid-term election of their administration.
For Obama to push his job approval back over 50 percent, Brown said the White House needed to convince regular Americans across the country that his programs are helping, Brown said.
The Quinnipiac University poll contains a mixture of good and bad news for the White House. Voters give Obama small but significant margins of approval on his handling of foreign policy, Afghanistan and terrorism.
But they still disapprove, 51 to 44 percent of his handling of health care -- despite his historic achievement in passing a sweeping health care reform bill earlier this year.
Although voters do not seem to like Obama's economic performance, they appear to have lesser hopes for Republicans.
By a strong nine-point margin, the poll found American voters trust Obama by 45-36 percent over Republicans lawmakers in Congress to handle the economy.
For the study, Quinnipiac surveyed 1,914 registered voters nationwide from May 19-24, and the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.
The end of that time period coincided with increasing accusations that the White House has been slow to respond to the oil spill -- which officials deny -- and it was not clear to what extent the disaster influenced the poll.
© AFP 2013