Political scientist Alan Abramowitz emailed over an interesting insight about the effect the presidential race is having on Barack Obama's numbers — and what that might mean in November:
All the noise being made by the presidential campaign, especially by the Republican campaign, has taken attention away from what may turn out to be more significant for the general election — Barack Obama’s rising approval rating.
Obama’s weekly approval rating in the Gallup tracking poll (I ignore the daily fluctuations which are largely meaningless) has risen to its highest level in many months — 53 percent approval vs. 44 percent disapproval for the past week.
This is potentially very significant for the November election because much research, including my own, has found that the president’s approval rating is a key predictor of the election results even when the president is not on the ballot. Thus a very unpopular George W. Bush probably doomed John McCain to defeat in 2008 no matter what happened during the campaign that year. A 53-44 approval-disapproval balance would give Democrats a good shot at keeping the White House even if they were not running against a badly divided Republican Party led by perhaps the most unpopular nominee in decades.
So why has Obama’s approval rating been rising recently? Several factors may be involved including an improving economy but one of the most important [may] well be the GOP presidential campaign. The more voters see of the leading GOP candidates, the better Obama looks. Along these lines, it is probably not a coincidence that there has been an especially large jump in Obama’s approval rating among women which now stands at 58 percent.
For context, Obama's approval rating at this point in the 2012 cycle was 47 percent, and George W. Bush's approval rating in 2008 was 28 percent.