New polling indicates that President Barack Obama is enjoying a surge in popularity as his presidency winds to a close.
The sitting president’s solid favorables could result in him becoming a high-profile public figure after he leaves office and could make him an impactful voice in the November election.
On May 23, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Obama had a 51 percent approval rating, his highest since his second inauguration in January 2013.
Obama remains a deeply unpopular figure within the GOP, with only 8 percent of self-identifying Republicans approving of him. That deficit is made up for by a sterling 88 percent support among Democrats and a thumbs up from 54 percent of independents.
Meanwhile, Gallup’s weekly tracking of the president’s job approval indicates that his support is continuing to grow. During the week of May 23-29, Obama had a 52 percent favorable rating, 1 point up from the May 16-22 week.
Political science professor Grant Reeher of Syracuse University said he believes Obama’s popularity is soaring due to the ugliness of the 2016 presidential primaries.
"As the conflicts got more into the gutter during the primary season, President Obama looks much better by comparison," Reeher told The Hill. "I think that he personally has been helped by what has happened in both primaries — but particularly the Republican one — which reminded people why they liked the guy eight years ago."
Former Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt shared a similar assessment, casting the fiery rhetoric and divisiveness of the 2016 election as a flattering backdrop for the final year of the president’s second term.
"President Obama, no matter the political stakes, has always spoken to Americans’ aspirations and better angels," LaBolt told Business Insider. "It’s hard to argue that’s what has driven the campaign narrative this year."
Burton Kaufman, a historian who has chronicled the post-presidency careers of all previous presidents, said he believes Obama’s relative popularity in his final year will translate into a very visible public profile in the coming years.
"There will be great demand for Obama on the speaking circuit," Kaufman told CBS News. " … His will be a consequential post-presidency."
The historian noted that Obama would likely write a memoir and promote his ideas through speaking engagements, all while amassing the funds necessary to build his own presidential library.
“He’ll try as much as he can to promote his accomplishments,” Kaufman predicted. “He’s an intellectual, and he’ll be more oriented toward writing, speaking, teaching than making fortunes of money, although he will.”
Obama’s rising popularity could also play a pivotal factor in the November election. He is expected to campaign heavily for the likely Democratic presidential nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Democratic strategist Jonathan Rosen touted Obama’s approval rating as an invaluable asset to the Clinton campaign, telling The Hill that if the president could legally run for a third term, “he’d be reelected in a walk."
The strategist added that Obama’s popularity among Democrats and independents could help create a unified coalition to defeat GOP nominee Donald Trump.
“He can play a huge role in bringing the Democratic base and independents together to unite behind her candidacy,” Rosen said.
Professor Reeher noted that Obama would only be effective in winning over Democrats and independents, not disaffected Republican voters.
“I don’t think he is in the position of a Ronald Reagan at this point,” Reeher said of Obama. “The Republicans really have set themselves in opposition to him in a way that mainstream Democrats did not, at least to the same extent, with Reagan. So in terms of him being a unifier beyond Democrats, I’m not so sure.”
While Obama may not be able to pull GOP voters to Clinton’s side, his rising popularity among his own base and independents will likely play a larger role in the 2016 election than most two-term presidents have in previous cycles.