21 months before the 2016 presidential election, Republicans are struggling to find a candidate who will be conservative enough to win their nomination and moderate enough to appeal to sensible voters. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton appears to have nailed down the Democratic nomination. Surprisingly, President Obama's approval ratings have improved to the point where he may be able to boost her campaign.
It seems more and more likely that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be the 2016 Democratic Presidential nominee. A recent McClatchy-Marist poll of Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents found Clinton leading with 64 percent, followed by Vice President Biden at 15 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren with 8 percent, and Senator Bernie Warren at 4 percent.
Meanwhile, President Obama has staged an unexpected comeback. After the drubbing Democrats took in the 2014-midterm elections, many political observers wrote off the President. They imagined that Republicans would take the initiative and Obama would become a passive observer. Instead, the reverse has happened.
The President's approval ratings are the highest they've been in months. 72 percent of those who watched Obama's State-of-the-Union address believed the Administration's policies "will move the country in the right direction." A recent Associated Press-GFK poll found there is growing support for the President's economic policies and "51 percent approve of his handling of unemployment." In addition, 10 million people have enrolled in Obamacare.
The Gallup organization noted that Obama's approval ratings are historically polarized: "Throughout President Barack Obama's sixth full year in office, an average of 79% of Democrats, compared with 9% of Republicans, approved of the job he was doing." This is comparable to the 70 percent gap at the end of George W. Bush's sixth year in office. However, during Bush's last two years in office, his approval ratings hovered around 30 percent, reaching a low of 25 percent at the time of the 2008 presidential election. At the conclusion of his presidency, Bush's domestic and foreign policies were criticized by both Democrats and Republicans. As a result, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, avoided President Bush.
At the moment it appears that Obama's end-of-term approval ratings will be significantly better than those of Bush and, therefore, President Obama will be able to help the probable Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. As the economy improves, support for Obama's domestic policies goes up, which will boost Clinton. A recent New York Times article indicated that Clinton is expected to embrace, "standard Democratic initiatives like raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure, closing corporate tax loopholes and cutting taxes for the middle class."
Clinton's economic policies will stand in stark contrast to those of the eventual Republican presidential nominee, who will advocate some version of trickle-down Reaganomics, the philosophy promoted by Mitt Romney in his failed 2012 presidential campaign : "As President... I will cut marginal tax rates across the board for individuals and corporations... I will repeal burdensome regulations, and prevent the bureaucracy from writing new ones... Instead of growing the federal government, I will shrink it."
At the moment, voters disagree with President Obama's foreign policy by a twelve point margin (50 percent disapprove versus 38 percent approve). However, this margin is likely to diminish over the next 18 months - given that progress is made against in the war against the Islamic State and there are no attacks in the US homeland. Furthermore, Clinton is widely regarded as more hawkish than Obama; it is difficult to imagine that she would be considered "softer" than any Republican presidential candidate.
The latest polls indicate 55 percent of voters support President Obama's executive actions on immigration. Indeed, "62 percent of Americans think illegal immigrants who pass a background check and pay their taxes should be allowed to stay given certain requirements." Hillary Clinton strongly supports Obama's actions. (A fact that will not be lost on US Hispanic voters who strongly support Obama on this issue.) In contrast, Republican candidates are all over the map on immigration and most do not support a "pathway to citizenship" policy.
A January poll indicated that most voters regard global climate change as a critical threat. When asked, "If nothing is done to reduce global warming in the future, how serious of a problem do you think it will be for the United States?" 78 percent responded it would be a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. President Obama and Hillary Clinton believe that global climate change is a serious problem that necessitates aggressive action. Once again, the Republican candidates are all over the map on this issue.
Contrary to what many observers thought after the 2014 elections, it does not appear that President Obama's final two years will be a disaster. In fact it seems likely that his surging approval ratings will help the prospects of the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.