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Why Obama's approval rating is rising

President Obama's approval rating rose to 57 percent - up 5 percent since the election, and the highest since May 2011 after the Osama bin Laden raid, according to a new AP/Gfk poll. Most say Obama can help improve the economy.

By Jennifer AgiestaAssociated Press / December 7, 2012

President Barack Obama and first Lady Michelle Obama look to the stage during the National Christmas Tree Lighting Thursday in Washington. A new poll shows Obama's approval rating is the highest since US Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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Washington

A month after the bitterly fought election, President Barack Obama has his highest approval ratings since the killing of Osama bin Laden, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll, and more Americans say the nation is heading in the right direction now than at any time since the start of his first term.

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Obama's approval rating stands at 57 percent, the highest since May 2011, when U.S. Navy SEALs killed the terror leader, and up 5 percentage points from before the election. And 42 percent say the country is on the right track, up from 35 percent in January 2009.

A majority think it's likely that the president will be able to improve the economy in his second term.

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"Compared to the alternative, I'm more optimistic about government and the economy with him in office," said Jack Reinholt, an independent from Bristol, R.I., who backed Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. "I feel he has the better path laid out."

Indeed, the latest unemployment report Friday showed that US economy had added 146,000 jobs in November, pushing the jobless rate to 4-year low of 7.7 percent.

Still, four years of partisan conflict in Washington have taken a toll on the president's image.

"I'm less enthusiastic about him than the first time he was elected," Reinholt added.

Americans are divided on what kind of president Obama has been, with 37 percent saying he's been above average or outstanding and 36 percent describing his tenure as below average or poor. Another quarter say he's been just average, according to the poll.

Obama held much stronger numbers on this measure at the start of his first term, with two-thirds expecting an above-average presidency. And the public's take on Obama's relative performance has bounced back and forth over his four years in office, moving higher following the death of bin Laden, after declining in the summer of 2010, a few months before the GOP took back control of the House.

Looking ahead to Obama's final four years, most Americans doubt he can reduce the federal budget deficit. But almost 7 in 10 say he will be able to implement the health care law passed in March 2010 and remove most troops from Afghanistan. And most think he'll be able to improve the economy and boost race relations in his final term, though both those figures are down significantly from January 2009.

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