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Could it be that Barack Obama’s new populist tone, rolled out with much fanfare and symbolism in Kansas just a few weeks ago, is already paying dividends with the public?

A new ABC/Washington Post poll finds that 49 percent of voters approve of Barack Obama’s job performance, the highest rating since March if the short-lived bump he received from the killing of Osama Bin Laden is excluded. Perhaps more important, the president’s disapproval rating, which has hovered between 53 and 54 percent for months, is back down to 47 percent, a much healthier figure for an incumbent president seeking election to a second term less than a year from now.

Obama’s numbers have been mired in the low to mid 40s after he took a major hit during this summer’s debt ceiling fiasco. But a recent uptick suggests that the unemployment rate dropping to 8.6 percent, or perhaps Obama’s public campaign for a payroll tax cut extension — voters now prefer him to Republicans in Congress on the tax question — is improving his standing with the electorate.

A slight uptick among several key demographic groups across the political spectrum is a welcome bit of good news for a president that barely edges Republicans in prospective match-ups:

He has recovered from single digits among Republicans, with 19 percent of Republicans now approving of his job performance.

He remains mired below 50 percent among independents, with 44 percent approving and 51 disapproving. For the first time since May, he’s pulled about even with seniors, 48 percent to 49 percent, and strengthened among people age 18 to 29, 55 percent to 36 percent.

More than 40 percent of white, non-college-educated men approve of his job performance, a high since January.

We should be careful about drawing conclusions, especially on the basis of one poll. But stories like this one can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If the press corps think Obama’s due for a political comeback, a poll like this provides the opening chapter.

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