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In Obama's Christmas stocking, a bit of good news

A new CNN/ORC poll this week shows President Obama’s approval rating the highest it has been in 20 months, likely boosted by economic good news.

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A woman displays her customized shirt as President Obama's motorcade passes by in Kailua, Hawaii.

Gary Cameron/REUTERS

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Shave ice and twice-cooked short ribs aren’t the only things President Obama is savoring on his family vacation in Hawaii this Christmas.

There’s a new poll out this week showing Obama’s approval rating the highest it has been in 20 months.

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True, the CNN/ORC poll has that rating at just under half (48 percent) with the number ticking down among men, Republicans, and Americans between 35 and 49 years old. But the figure jumped 10 percent from a month ago among women, independents, and Millennials.

“It all amounts to some welcome good news for Obama, whose unpopularity – despite consistently improving economic conditions – led to widespread losses for his party in November’s midterm elections,” CNN’s Kevin Liptak reports, noting separate surveys showing support for Obama’s unilateral actions on immigration and relations with Cuba.

The economy is a big part of Obama’s poll bump.

Falling gas prices have given Americans more disposable income – very welcome during the holiday shopping season. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a record high Tuesday (18030), and the S&P 500 hit a record high as well (2087) before closing at 2082. A CNBC headline Wednesday – “Encouraging econ data boost weekly mortgage applications” – highlighted another bit of economic good news.

Meanwhile, the US economy grew at a 5 percent clip in the third quarter, its quickest pace in 11 years and the strongest sign yet that growth has decisively shifted into higher gear, Reuters reports. Coupled with a hearty 4.6 percent advance in the prior three months, the economy has now experienced the two strongest back-to-back quarters of growth since 2003. Underscoring the firming fundamentals, growth in domestic demand was revised up to a 4.1 percent pace, the fastest in nearly four years.

A large portion of voting Americans may be generally down on Obama, but they are encouraged by the good economic news.

“As the recovery powers on, and the days of the downturn fade further into the past, Americans appear to have turned the page in their views of the economy,” CNN reports. This week’s poll showed for the first time in seven years, a majority of Americans – 51 percent – have a positive view of the economy, a sharp increase from the 38 percent who felt that way just two months ago.

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The jump was present in every demographic group – men, women, whites, non-whites, urban, rural — and was largest among Americans who earn less than $50,000 annually, according to the CNN/ORC poll.

Gallup, Rasmussen, and YouGov/Economist polls show Obama’s approval rating ticking upwards – slightly – as well. Still, CNN/ORC’s 48-50 percent finding could be an outlier. The RealClearPolitics polling average puts the approve-disapprove spread at nearly 10 percentage points (42.7-52.5).

So how do things look for Obama’s last two years as President? Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief, is decidedly noncommittal. He writes:

How Obama will fare going forward is an empirical question that cannot be precisely forecasted. Presidents' approval ratings are usually driven first and foremost by the economy, and certainly few among us would claim to know exactly what that will be doing over the next two years. Otherwise, Obama's job approval ratings in his last two years will be driven by a wide variety of forces and events not yet foreseen. Given that Obama's ratings over this year have been very stable, the default would be to expect to see his ratings continue in the 40 percent range going forward. But that's simply a default based on current performance and by no means a prediction.