There’s nothing quite like contemplating an actual alternative to President Obama to drive up his approval numbers. Ever since people began voting in the primaries, the president’s popularity has been moving steadily up, including in the always hostile Gallup poll.
In Gallup’s most recent weekly average, Obama is at 51-45 — the exact opposite of where he was on Jan. 1 and a 12-point swing since then. He’s been at 50 percent or higher in every week since March 1, save one.
I expected Democrats to begin expressing much higher approval numbers for Obama once they were forced to really think about Clinton or Sanders in the White House, but the trend is even stronger with independents who basically hate their choices in this election cycle:
Democrats have slowly looked at Obama more favorably since the beginning of 2015, but independents have begun to look at Obama much more favorably. After a sharp slide following his reelection, independents turned their opinions of Obama around at the beginning of 2014. Over the past year, that’s escalated. And since ratings from Democrats and Republicans are more stable, that shift by independents moves the needle a lot.
People don’t always realize that Obama’s approval numbers have been held down by the ambivalence of a lot of Democrats. The same is happening now to a much greater degree to Hillary Clinton. She won’t really have to do anything to see her negatives decline once the Democrats unite around her as the only chance of keeping Donald Trump away from the nuclear codes. If independents follow suit, which they will if the campaign is waged competently, she won’t be laboring under historically high negatives by the time people start voting.
That’s not to say that she’s a popular politician. It’s just that no Democrat can carry good approvals if the Republicans are uniformly opposed to them and the Democrats are divided.