What a difference a few weeks can make. It was eight weeks ago that Americans went to the polls to hand control of the U.S. Senate and even more of the House to Republicans, after a campaign in which Democrats were more likely to campaign with Ebola than with Obama. It was a crushing, demoralizing defeat that was supposed to prove, once and for all, that Barack Obama was done, even if he couldn't feel the fork yet.
Shortly thereafter, though, the President surprised the world by securing a major climate agreement with China, then delivering big on his promise to take executive action on immigration. Around the same time, President Obama flexed a little muscle by helping to defeat a Keystone Pipeline bill with a stealth veto threat. While substantively questionable, the President then scored a resounding political victory when he reached a compromise with Republicans to fund most of the government until the end of FY 2015, and beat back a Democratic revolt in the process. The economy continued to boom, even as gas prices continued to drop.
Finally, right before he went on vacation, Obama casually won the Cold War, shocking the world by ending half a century of hostilities with Cuba.
On Tuesday, the low approval ratings that have plagued the President throughout much of his second term, and which scared so many Democrats away from Obama's coattails, rose to their highest level in over a year, and at 48% approval vs. 48% disapproval, marked the first time his approval rating has been above water since September of 2013. From Gallup:
Some of this uptick is due to higher ratings among Hispanics, who reacted favorably to Obama's actions on immigration announced in November. Some of it may reflect his recent announcement concerning the restoration of relations with Cuba. Some may reflect Americans' increasingly positive views of the economy and jobs picture. And some may be a "Christmas" bump, reflecting Americans' more charitable attitudes in and around the Christmas season.
Not only do Americans now like Obama as much as they don't like him, they also admire him more than anyone else in the world, and triple as admired as the Pope.
As Gallup notes, their tracking poll can be very fluid, and incumbent presidents almost always make the most admired poll, but given the way the news has been going, especially on the economy, there's every reason to think that President Obama's approval could continue to climb. On the plus side, that will give Obama some measure of political capital to wage the fights he's looking ahead to.
"I haven't used the veto pen very often since I've been in office, partly because legislation that I objected to was typically blocked in the Senate even after the House took over — Republicans took over the House," Obama told NPR in his year-end interview, adding "Now I suspect there are going to be some times where I've got to pull that pen out. And I'm going to defend gains that we've made in health care; I'm going to defend gains that we've made on environment and clean air and clean water."
Higher poll numbers will also undercut Republican resistance to comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that looms large for 2016.
On the other hand, it's hard not to look at the past few weeks, and wonder what sort of difference these eight or so points could have made before the midterms, when the Most Admired Man in America was somehow considered to be political poison.