President Obama has bounced back from his low point after November's elections and enjoys stronger support heading into the 2012 election cycle, particularly against Sarah Palin, according to a McClatchy Newspapers-Marist poll released Thursday.
Obama's fortunes appear to be rising along with the country's. The poll found a jump in the number of people who think the country's heading in the right direction. Also, the president probably benefited from the productive postelection session of Congress.
"Obama's standing on far firmer footing," said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which conducted the national survey. "It puts a different hue on the 2012 elections."
The president's rating improved on several fronts, including job approval, how many like him personally and whether they think he'll do better in the next two years. His strengthening appeal was most noticeable in how he matches up against three potential Republican rivals.
Today, Obama would beat Republican Mitt Romney by 51 to 38 percent, the poll showed. In a December McClatchy-Marist poll, he trailed the former Massachusetts governor by 46 to 44 percent.
Obama would defeat Republican Mike Huckabee by a similar margin, 50 to 38 percent. In December, the president led the former Arkansas governor by only 47 to 43 percent.
And he would crush Palin by 56 to 30 percent. A month before, he led the former Alaska governor by 52 to 40 percent.
In each case, Obama owes his lead now to a unified base of support from Democrats and an edge among independents, who prefer the president by 10 points against Romney, 5 points against Huckabee and 28 against Palin.
"Clearly, the lame-duck session of Congress showed that things could move forward," Miringoff said. "That's something people are eager for, especially independents."
The poll was conducted from the evening of Jan. 6 through Monday evening, straddling the Arizona shooting Saturday morning. There was no noticeable change in the numbers in the nightly samples after the shooting.
An uptick in confidence about the country and the economy is probably key to Obama's improved standing.
The poll found that 41 percent of Americans think the country's headed in the right direction and 47 percent think it's on the wrong track.
Americans are still divided closely over the new health care law, with 49 percent in favor of keeping it the same or expanding it, and 43 percent for repealing it or changing it to do less.
The poll of 1,018 adults, including 827 registered voters, was taken Jan. 6 through Monday; the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.