While much of the focus these days is on the fight for the Republican presidential nomination, there are some developing trends that are likely to have the man already in the White House smiling. Only 29 percent of voters nationwide believe the United States is currently heading in the right direction, while 64 percent believe the nation has gotten off on the wrong track. Those aren't great numbers for a president seeking re-election -- but that 29 percent is up from 24 percent a month ago and 16 percent the month before that.
A similar pattern can be found when reviewing the way people view the economy. The raw numbers are bad, but the trend shows improvement. Fifty-seven percent say the country is still in a recession. A majority has held that view consistently for four years. But the number that believes the country is in a recession is down from 61 percent a month ago and 67 percent three months ago.
Overall consumer confidence is rising, and so is what may be the most important indicator of all for President Obama: the way people rate their own personal finances. When the president took office, 35 percent of Americans thought their own finances were in good shape. That fell to 27 percent last summer -- clearly not a good sign. But things began to turn around in the fall, and people now are rating their own finances just as they did on Obama's first day in office.
Again, perspective is required. These aren't great numbers. People would like to see improvement in their financial condition, and getting back to where they were in January 2009 is not something most would consider good news. But, still, it's a big improvement since last summer. If people are feeling better about their own finances, they're going to feel better about the guy living in the White House.
Not surprisingly, this has all been reflected in a modestly improving job approval rating for the president. For much of 2011, his positive ratings were in the low-to-mid 40s. In January, however, his ratings inched up to the high 40s for most of the month. On a couple of days, his approval rating even topped the 50 percent mark. If the president's job approval rating moves up and is consistently over 50 percent, no Republican will be able to beat him in November.
However, not every trend is moving as the president would like. At Rasmussen Reports, we measure the number of people who consider themselves Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated every month. In each of the past two months, the number that considers themselves Democrats has fallen to record lows. Now, just 33 percent consider themselves Democrats, down from 40 percent just before Obama took office. The number of Republicans has remained pretty steady during that time, but the Democratic base has shrunk.
The other concern for the White House is that the election will be held in November, not today. While the economic trends are generally improving right now, there is no way to know what direction they'll be heading in by summer or fall. And research has shown over many years that a single bad report on the economy causes confidence to fall immediately. It takes several months of good economic news before confidence can recover.