Similarly, in the new survey, 46 percent of adults said they approved of Obama's performance as president while 48 percent disapproved. That was a marked improvement from the previous poll in October 2014, when only 41 percent gave him positive marks. The new survey placed Obama's approval rating at its highest level since June 2013 (when it reached 48 percent).
Improving economic expectations clearly are benefiting Obama. Among the 44 percent of adults who said they expected their financial situation to improve over the next year, 56 percent approved of his performance while 38 percent disapproved. The 46 percent who expect their financial situation to remain unchanged tilted against him: 40 percent approved and 54 percent disapproved. And with the 8 percent who thought their situation would deteriorate, just 24 percent approved, while 68 percent disapproved.
Those stark divisions suggest that Obama's approval rating could rise at least somewhat further if sustained growth continues to increase the share of Americans upbeat about their economic future.
Compared with last October, the new survey found Obama's approval rating jumping 7 percentage points among both Democrats and independents, as well as 8 points among minorities (reaching 66 percent with them, his best showing since September 2013.) Mark Buck, a Native-American independent who operates an excavating business near Toledo, Ohio, gave the president good marks not only on the economy—his business, Buck says, "is really starting to take off pretty well"—but also the passage of his health reform law. "Helping people out with health care is a big thing, because people have struggled, like myself," says Buck. After a construction accident in 2004, he continued, "For 10 years, nobody would sell me insurance. Fortunately, now I can get that and finally get my checkups "... without being so concerned about spending all of that money out of pocket to keep up with my health."
Obama's gains with whites were much more muted: He stood at 37 percent with them in the new survey, up only 3 percentage points since last fall. His approval rating among whites has exceeded 41 percent in the Heartland poll only twice since 2009.
Among whites, Obama notched his largest gains among the group traditionally most receptive to Democrats: white women holding at least a four-year college degree. His approval rating among those upscale women spiked to 53 percent, up from 45 percent last fall; since 2010, Obama has ranked higher with college white women only once. Cindy Harrison, who works for the federal courts in St. Louis, is one of those women mostly positive on the president. "I remember before he took office, when things were going in the tank and Republicans weren't doing anything," she says. "He came in and took the bull by the horns." These college white women, whose support for Obama declined in 2012, could be critical to Democratic hopes of succeeding him in 2016: Both national and state polls have consistently found Hillary Clinton improving on Obama's performance with this steadily growing group in early tests against possible GOP nominees.