Nate Silver, on President Obama’s recent modest rise in approval ratings:
But what is driving the change? One popular theory is that Mr. Obama is benefiting from the confrontation with Congress over the payroll tax cut:
“A CNN/ORC International Poll out Tuesday also indicates that the partisan battle over extending the payroll tax cut may be partially responsible for the jump in the president’s numbers.”
I would suggest that another explanation is much more plausible: Mr. Obama’s improved approval ratings reflect rising economic expectations.
If you, like most political scientists, accept the economic argument, it suddenly puts House Republicans in a tough spot. On one hand, failure to pass an extension of the payroll tax cut is increasingly being viewed as though House Republicans are actually for a tax increase on the middle class. On the other hand, economists seem to agree that failure to pass this tax cut extension could be detrimental to the fragile economic recovery. That would be good for Republicans because it increases the likelihood that Obama loses re-election next fall.
Be seen as unfriendly to the middle class on taxes and risk further harming the economy or indirectly improve Obama’s re-election prospects. A tough choice for the GOP, indeed. In this difficult situation, it seems that so far they’re picking the former over the latter.