WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's job approval rating climbed steadily this month as he fought Republicans to extend the payroll tax cut and is now above his disapproval rating for the first time since July, a Gallup report showed on Tuesday.
The rating for Obama, who is running for re-election in November, climbed to 47 percent versus a 45 percent measure of disapproval, according to Gallup's three-day rolling average of polls, taken between December 21 and December 23. This was up from approval of 41 percent and disapproval of 51 percent early in the month.
On December 23, the Democratic president signed a two-month payroll tax cut extension after forcing Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to back his demands or see taxes rise on January 1.
The gain in the Gallup poll echoed other surveys showing his approval ratings on the mend, as public opinion sided with Obama during the bitter dispute to extend a tax cut to around 160 million Americans, worth some $40 per bi-weekly paycheck.
Obama's gain in approval ratings marks the first time since July 7-9 that the number has exceeded his disapproval rating.
U.S. economic data has also been somewhat more positive in recent weeks, and a Gallup poll of economic confidence on Tuesday showed an improvement in otherwise gloomy sentiment, to a reading of minus 38 in December from minus 45 in November.
Household confidence has been hammered since a severe recession that ended in 2009 and unemployment remains at 8.6 percent, which is beneath a 10.1 percent peak but still very high by historic U.S. standards.
The White House aggressively highlighted what $40 would buy a middle class family feeling the pinch in a tough economy, showcasing Obama's key re-election message which claims that he backs ordinary Americans while Republicans favor the rich.
House Republicans caved after their own party in the Senate, and constituents back home, lobbied them to compromise with Obama on an issue seen as a clear vote-loser in the upcoming November general election.
House Republicans wanted the tax break to be extended for all of 2012, and had initially refused to approve a 60-day extension agreed by Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.
Republicans and Democrats disagree over how to pay for the extension of the tax break and resume negotiations in January.
Democrats favor funding the more than $100 billion price tag of the extension, which also applies to longterm unemployment aid, by raising taxes on people who make more than $1 million a year. Republicans prefer to pay for it by cutting spending.
(Reporting By Alister Bull; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)