WASHINGTON -- President Obama's job approval ratings have improved, if only slightly, from a low point during the winter, a trend that potentially could help embattled Democrats in key Senate races this fall.
The size of the change varies from poll to poll, but they tell the same overall story: Obama's ratings took a slide in the fall as the public saw his HealthCare.gov website flounder. More recently, with the website fixed and the news about the president's healthcare law focusing on millions of people enrolling, his approval numbers have recovered.
That improvement could matter because how voters feel about the president has an effect on how they vote on members of the president's party. This fall, control of the Senate will be up for grabs, and during the winter, Obama's slide in the polls was one factor in an improvement of Republican chances.
George W. Bush provides the example Obama hopes to avoid. Bush's approval began to plummet after Hurricane Katrina in late summer 2005. It continued to drop through the spring of his sixth year in office as the public absorbed steady bad news about the war in Iraq, reaching the low 30% range in Gallup's surveys.
That slide helped create a political climate in which Democrats scored a major victory in the midterm election.
For a while in November and December, Obama's approval copied Bush's trajectory. But more recently, the president has done better. His approval rating hit a low point of about 40% in December, stabilized and then began to rise a bit. Over the entire first quarter of this year, his approval has averaged just more than 42% in Gallup's polling and last week hit 45%, the firm reported. Unlike Bush, he has not experienced a sharp decline in support within his party.
Still, Obama's current ratings are low, in comparison with his record and with that of most of his predecessors. At its current level, he may not be weighing down Democratic candidates, but the public's view of him would have to improve more before he would represent a net positive.
Democrats have an additional problem in the Senate because, by luck of the draw, the highly contested races this year almost all take place in conservative states, including Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, where Obama's popularity is lower than it is nationwide.