(Adds CNN poll in second paragraph, Carney comments in sixth paragraph. For more campaign news, see ELECT <GO>.)
Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s approval ratings are showing signs of rebounding following some recent positive economic data and after months of aggressively promoting his jobs plan and criticizing his Republican opposition.
Forty-nine percent of Americans approve of how Obama is handling his job, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll and another conducted for CNN. The rate was the highest in both surveys since a short-lived bump the president got following the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.
While the public still disapproved of the president’s handling of the economy in the ABC/Post poll, 56 percent to 41 percent, the margin narrowed from a 23-point spread last month. The president bested congressional Republicans when it comes to whom Americans trust to handle the economy and create jobs -- an increase for Obama over last month, when the results were divided equally.
Obama may be benefiting from improvements in the U.S. economy and the seesaw battle among the Republican candidates seeking their party’s presidential nomination.
“It shows a slight glimmer of hope,” Matt Dowd, a Bloomberg News contributor and a former chief campaign strategist for Obama’s White House predecessor, George W. Bush, wrote in an e-mail. “But the question is whether it’s a real change in his prospects or a temporary bump up because of circus atmosphere of Republican nomination process.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney, in response to a question about the CNN survey, sought to downplay the approval numbers, saying “polls go up and down.” The president’s message may be resonating with the American public, he said.
Obama “is committed to working with Congress and doing the things he can do outside of Congress to grow the economy and help it create jobs,” Carney told reporters. “In his last several months, that focus has been pretty clear.”
Recent data point to an economy that is stabilizing heading into the election year.
The Commerce Department reported today that builders broke ground last month on more houses than at any time since April 2010. Housing starts increased 9.3 percent to a 685,000 annual rate, exceeding the highest estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, and building permits, a proxy for future construction, climbed to a more than one-year high.
The nation’s jobs picture also has improved. The unemployment rate in November dropped to 8.6 percent, the lowest since March 2009, from 9 percent the month earlier. Last week, the Labor Department reported that the fewest workers in more than three years filed claims for unemployment benefits last week.
The Labor Department said today that payrolls increased in 29 U.S. states in November, and the jobless rate declined in 43, a sign the labor market is recovering across much of the U.S.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 3.1 percent to 1,242.68 at 3:42 p.m. in New York after the report on housing was released. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note advanced 11 basis points to 1.92 percent.
Pessimism on Economy
The higher approval ratings for Obama were tempered by other numbers. The ABC/Post poll also found heightened public concern about the future of the economy, with 52 percent saying they were pessimistic about the economic outlook over the next 12 months and 44 percent describing themselves as optimistic. In April, an ABC/Post poll had 55 percent as optimistic and 42 percent as pessimistic.
Those who said they were optimistic about their own family’s financial situation declined to 61 percent from 66 percent in April.
Both surveys were done before the current showdown over extending into 2012 a two-percentage-point cut in the employee portion of the payroll tax. The ABC/Post telephone poll of 1,005 adults was conducted Dec. 15-18 and the margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The CNN polling of 1,015 adults was done Dec. 16-18 and has an error margin of 3 percentage points.
The Republican-controlled House voted today to reject a bipartisan Senate plan that would have continued the tax cut for two months with debate on extending it for the rest of the year taking place after Congress returns after the holidays. The lower tax rate of 4.2 percent is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, at which point the tax will rise to 6.2 percent.
Extending the payroll tax cut was a central element of the jobs plan Obama proposed in September, and since then he has sought to portray Republicans in Congress as defending the wealthy at the expense of middle-income Americans.
In the ABC/Post poll, respondents overwhelmingly said they trust Obama over Republicans to protect middle-income Americans, 50 percent to 35 percent. Obama’s advisers say that’s a sign the president’s message is resonating with the public.
“The president has been focused on restoring economic security for middle-class families while Republicans have obstructed those efforts and instead proposed a return to the same policies that led to the economic crisis,” said Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Obama’s re-election campaign.
Several other recent polls have shown Obama’s approval ratings still hovering in the mid-40s with a higher proportion of those surveyed disapproving of the way he’s handling the job.
The most recent Gallup daily poll put Obama’s approval rating at 43 percent with 50 percent disapproving. A Dec. 7-11 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey found 46 percent approving of the job Obama is doing and 48 percent disapproving.
--Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Justin Blum
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