WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has bounced back from his low point after November's elections and enjoys stronger support heading into the 2012 election cycle, particularly against Sarah Palin, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll released Thursday.
Obama's fortunes appear to be rising along with the country's. The poll found a jump in the number of people who think the country's heading in the right direction. Also, the president probably benefited from the productive post-election session of Congress.
"Obama's standing on far firmer footing," said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the national survey. "It puts a different hue on the 2012 elections."
The president's rating improved on several fronts, including job approval, how many like him personally and whether they think he'll do better in the next two years. His strengthening appeal was most noticeable in how he matches up against three potential Republican rivals.
Today Obama would beat Republican Mitt Romney by 51 to 38 percent, the poll showed. In a December McClatchy-Marist poll, he trailed the former Massachusetts governor by 46-44 percent.
Obama would defeat Republican Mike Huckabee by a similar margin, 50-38 percent. In December, the president led the former Arkansas governor by only 47-43 percent.
And he'd crush Palin by 56-30 percent. A month before, he led the former Alaska governor by 52-40 percent.
In each case, Obama owes his lead now to a unified base of support from Democrats and an edge among independents, who prefer the president by 10 points against Romney, 5 points against Huckabee and 28 points against Palin.
"Clearly, the lame-duck session of Congress showed that things could move forward," Miringoff said. "That's something people are eager for, especially independents."
The poll was conducted from the evening of Jan. 6 through Monday evening, straddling the Arizona shooting Saturday morning. There was no noticeable change in the numbers in the nightly samples after the shooting.
An uptick in confidence about the country and the economy is probably key to Obama's improved standing.
The poll found that 41 percent of Americans think the country's headed in the right direction and 47 percent think it's on the wrong track. That's a marked improvement from December, when just 34 percent thought the country was headed in the right direction and 58 percent thought it was on the wrong track.
At the same time, 48 percent of American voters approve of how the president is doing his job, up from 42 percent the month before. Forty-three percent disapprove, down from 50 percent.
Similarly, 53 percent of voters have favorable opinions of Obama, up from 47 percent, and 40 percent have unfavorable opinions, down from 49 percent.
Looking forward, 61 percent of voters think the president will do a better job in the second two years of his term, while just 21 percent think he'll do a worse job.
Whether they think he's learned or will be forced to the center by a Republican-led House of Representatives, the people who think he'll improve include Republicans, by 41-38 percent, conservatives, by 43-36 percent, and independents, by 55-23 percent.
Tea party supporters are split 41-41 over whether Obama will do better or worse.
Turning to Congress and the federal budget, the survey found pressure growing to cut the federal budget deficit, with a clear majority of 53 percent saying that should be the top priority, up from 47 percent.
Twenty-three percent said that maintaining current services and benefits should be the top priority, down from 28 percent.
Nineteen percent said cutting taxes should be the top budget priority, down from 22 percent.
A large majority of voters, 71 percent, would prefer for House Republicans to compromise with Obama and the Democrats to get things done, but only 36 percent of them think that Republicans will compromise, and 52 percent think they won't.
Americans are still divided closely over the new health care law, with 49 percent in favor of keeping it the same or expanding it, and 43 percent for repealing it or changing it so it does less.
This survey of 1,018 adults was conducted Jan. 6-10. People 18 and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed by telephone. Phone numbers were selected based on a list of telephone exchanges throughout the nation. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers. The two samples then were combined. Results are statistically significant within 3.0 percentage points. There were 827 registered voters polled. The results for this subset are statistically significant within 3.5 percentage points. The error margin increases for cross-tabulations.
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