President Obama seems to be enjoying a small bump in popularity, going from slightly negative to slightly positive in net approval ratings. It's not surprising that any shift in attitude would come mostly from voters in the middle, as opposed to Democrats or Republicans with hardened views about the president. So Politico isn't exactly breaking new ground with today's analysis, "Fickle independents return to Barack Obama":
That unpredictable, cranky group of voters who helped carry the president into office two years ago before turning against him in dramatic fashion, may be turning back in Obama’s direction even more quickly.
A series of national polls released over the last week shows Obama’s approval rating on the upswing among voters who don’t affiliate with either political party.
It's not hard to figure out. When a president moves in or out of "abysmal" approval-rating territory, it's because of shifts within his own party. From a Gallup report in May 2008: "George W. Bush's overall job approval rating had been running about 33% for quite a while, but has now fallen below 30% as some Republicans have stopped backing him." Conversely, when a president moves in or our of the "sky-high" approval realm, it's because of changed attitudes in the opposition party; Bush couldn't have reached a 90% approval rating after 9/11 if his boost in popularity hadn't been sharpest among Democrats.
So Obama's fluctuations near the midpoint of the approval continuum are all about movement among independents. Republicans may eventually warm to him (or Democrats sour on him), but it's extremely unlikely that they would get ahead of independents in changing their thinking. (Unless Obama does something apocalyptically post-partisan like name Michelle Bachmann to the Supreme Court.)
Another wet blanket on the fun, exciting narrative of the "fickle independent" comes from Brendan Nyhan, who reposts this chart from Alan Abromowitz showing that Obama's approval ratings pretty much exactly match up with how various demographic groups voted in 2008:
The implication is that politicians and the media spend too much time worrying about appeals targeting specific groups and too little on what moves support up and down across groups (principally, the economy).
I agree, and lazy emphasis on the supposed "swing vote" of the moment (most, like Soccer Moms, just a fancy name for moderates and independents) has always been one of my pet peeves about political analysis. (Along with a lack of attention paid to geographic patterns in voting.)