CNN apparently liked its polling results from earlier this month -- finding the president's approval at 53 percent from January 14-16 -- that it decided to go back into the field ... a week later! They found Obama's approval at 55 percent from January 21-23. I'm not sure why another poll was called for, but it has helped advance the storyline that Obama's numbers are bouncing right in time for the State of the Union address.
But the internals of the poll offer mixed readings for the president, who is still under-water on approval for the economy (45/54), health care (44/55), taxes (46/52), the deficit (38/60), and illegal immigration (38/57). This might help explain the news reports that the State of the Union is going to focus more on atmospherics than substance, as it seems that the president's job approval bounce depends most of all upon the atmosphere since the midterm. This general impression is confirmed in the Fox News poll, which also finds a bounce for the president, albeit it a smaller one. Simultaneously, it finds a majority of respondents (53 percent) saying the president is "falling below expectations" and a majority who claim they will "vote for someone else" in 2012 (51 percent). Fox News also finds an uptick in Obama's favorability rating, which has gone from 47 percent in December to 56 percent today.
A broader perspective is useful here. It took Obama just eight months to fall to 50 percent in the Gallup poll, which historically speaking is pretty quick. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both dropped to 50 percent in less time, but they started out much lower than Obama, whose initial reading in Gallup was 68 percent. It fell to 50 percent that quickly because the president lost Republicans and Independents, but never really fell too far because he held on to the Democrats. The week before the election, according to Gallup, he held 83 percent of Democrats, 41 percent of independents, and 9 percent of Republicans for an overall approval of 45 percent. Today, Obama pulls 84 percent, 49 percent, and 14 percent, respectively, for an overall approval of 50 percent. This latest reading gives him some breathing room for his battles with the new Congress, but it is still not that great. You might say he's gone from being "unpopular" to "neither popular nor popular."