President Barack Obama attends the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner on April 30, 2016 at the Washington Hilton hotel in Washington, DC.
Poll: Obama's approval rating is 51%
00:46 - Source: CNN

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In a new poll, 51% of Americans say they approve of President Barack Obama's performance

In February, 50% approved and 46% disapproved

CNN  — 

President Barack Obama’s approval rating has held in positive territory since February, according to a new CNN/ORC Poll, the first time it’s remained positive for more than two months since just after his re-election in 2012.

Overall, 51% say they approve of the President’s performance in the new poll, 46% disapprove, the same as in a March survey. In February, 50% approved and 46% disapproved. Obama’s approval ratings held above 50% from early-November 2012 through mid-January 2013 in CNN/ORC polling before dipping back into negative territory. Since then, the president’s report card has been largely negative.

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The sustained approval for the President comes as more say things in the country are generally going well. Overall, 49% say things are going very or fairly well, 51% very or fairly badly. That’s a positive shift since January, when 42% said things were going well. Reviews of the economy have improved by 2 points since February, a change within the margin of error, and remain mostly mixed: 48% say economic conditions in the country are good, 52% describe them as poor.

On each of those measures, Democrats express more positive reviews than Republicans. Among Democrats, 73% say things are generally going well for the country, 66% say economic conditions are in good shape. Both figures are higher among those backing Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination (79% overall, 68% on the economy) than they are among those who favor Bernie Sanders (67% say things are generally going well, 59% on the economy).

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For the Republicans, the situation is mostly bad. About 8 in 10 say things are going badly overall, 69% think the economy is in bad shape. Among Republicans who favored now-presumptive nominee Donald Trump for the party’s nomination are most negative: 54% say things in the U.S. are going “very badly” vs. 30% of those who backed other candidates.

That partisan disparity extends to the President’s approval ratings. Those figures provide an illustration of how much partisan polarization in the U.S. has grown in the last few decades. While Obama’s approval ratings now are about on par with Ronald Reagan’s approval rating at this time in his final year in office, the partisan gap in support is much larger now than it was back in 1988. Republicans’ approval ratings for Reagan outpaced Democrats’ by about 60 points, 86% to 25%. The yawning gap facing Obama is closer to 80 points, 90% approval among Democrats vs. 11% among Republicans.

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On a much shorter timeframe, the partisan gap is shrinking when it comes to Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Overall, 52% of Americans say the Senate should vote to approve federal judge Merrick Garland’s nomination, while 33% say they should not confirm him. That’s the same as in March, but partisan views are shifting in an unexpected way. Among Democrats, 71% say the Senate should confirm him, down 9 points since March, while 32% of Republicans say the same, up 6 points.

The shift is even larger by ideology. While 74% of liberals said Garland ought to be confirmed in March, that’s dropped to 67% now. Among conservatives, the share calling for his confirmation climbed 12 points from 25% to 37%.

Some conservative activists who expect Trump to lose the general election in November have suggested that the Senate move forward with Garland’s confirmation, but top Republicans in the Senate say they will not do so.

In the poll, 67% say the Senate should hold hearings to assess Garland’s nomination, up slightly from March, when 64% said the same. On that question, the partisan changes are smaller, and both sides have shifted in the same direction. Among Democrats, 72% say the Senate should hold hearings, up a tick from 67% in March, while 59% of Republicans say hold confirmation hearings, up from 55% in March.

The CNN/ORC Poll was conducted by telephone April 28 through May 1 among a random national sample of 1,011 adults. Results based on the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.