WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama heads into Tuesday’s State of the Union address riding the first uptick in his approval ratings in years, but he’ll be speaking to a room full of more Republicans than Democrats for the first time, providing for a new dynamic in the annual ritual.
Fifty percent say they approve of the job Obama’s doing as president, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Monday. That’s the best Obama’s fared since the spring of 2013, and it’s the latest in a string of surveys showing Obama’s ratings inching up, including a CNN/ORC poll from late December showing Obama at a 20-month approval high.
Improving economic conditions have finally triggered more optimism in the country, the surveys show, though many Americans still say the nation’s financial state is poor. Even as more people feel the benefits of a resurgent economy, there’s still a persistent sense among Americans that it’s not improving fast enough.
The Washington Post/ABC poll out Monday showed 56% of Americans felt the country was on the wrong track – an improvement from the 70% who felt that way in 2013, but still reflective of a majority who aren’t seeing much to crow about in the economic recovery.
That gloom is part of the reason Democrats fared so poorly in November’s midterm elections – and why Obama’s address on Tuesday will be delivered to the first GOP-majority Congress of Obama’s presidency.
The White House hopes that with improving approval poll numbers will come more unity among Democrats around Obama’s agenda, which aides say can be reduced to three words: middle class economics.
“It’s important for us to find every single way that we can to provide some relief for middle class families because as the economy finally after six years gets to the point where people are beginning to feel it, we need to make sure we lean in so that folks have a little bit more money at the end of the week,” said David Simas, the director of Obama’s political office.
That means proposing new tax breaks for married couples where each partner works, increasing the child care tax credit and offering two years of community college free to qualified applicants.
The White House says those kinds of moves will help bolster middle-class Americans who aren’t yet feeling the economic recovery, despite plenty of data indicating the country moving further away from the recession.
But even as Obama finds himself more popular than he has been in months, his agenda appears to be facing its toughest challenge yet with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress.
GOP leaders have already dismissed the White House tax plan as an unserious bid at tax reform, an issue both sides say they want to tackle in the final two years of Obama’s presidency. The President’s aides say they still expect to make progress.
“The State of the Union is an opportunity for the President to lay out his vision, to put forward his proposals. Republicans now in charge of Congress will have an opportunity to put forward their proposals,” Simas said. “This is the beginning of a process and we hope that it’s fruitful.”