Obama's approval rating is at its highest point in years, and that could be a big problem for Donald Trump

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Two years ago, President Barack Obama was largely absent from the campaign trail. Prospective and incumbent senators and House members shied away. His approval rating languished near the lowest point of his presidency.

Two years later, the script has flipped. He is trying to help elect the second-least-popular nominee in modern presidential history, Hillary Clinton, to carry on his legacy in office. And he's perhaps her best surrogate.

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"Obama is the single most effective surrogate she has, and I can't remember a time when an incumbent president this popular campaigned this hard for his party's nominee," said Jon Favreau, the former director of speechwriting for Obama.

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President Obama's first 100 days in the White House

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President Obama's first 100 days in the White House
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President Obama's first 100 days in the White House

White House photographer Pete Souza took this photo of President-elect Barack Obama moments before Obama took the oath of office.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama shared a moment at the Inaugural Ball on January 20, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

The next day, Obama entered the Oval Office to begin his first full day as America's 44th president.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama reads a letter that former President George W. Bush left for him in the Oval Office's resolute desk. Leaving a letter for the incoming president has become a White House tradition.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama toured the White House grounds with curator William Allman, chief usher Adm. Stephen Rochon, and presidential personal aide Reggie Love.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama toured the White House grounds with curator William Allman, chief usher Adm. Stephen Rochon, and presidential personal aide Reggie Love.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

The Obamas and staff wear 3-D glasses while watching a TV commercial during Super Bowl 43, Arizona Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, in the family theater of the White House.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Here's a photo of Obama meeting with senior advisers in the Oval Office during the third week of his presidency.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

President Obama walks to the Oval Office along the Colonnade with Vice President Joe Biden, Feb. 3, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Wearing an embroidered crew jacket, Obama waited for the first of many flights aboard Air Force One.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Close-up detail of President Obama's signature on a bill, and a pen used for the signing, aboard Air Force One on a flight from Buckley Air Force Base, Denver to Phoenix, Arizona.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama gave his first State of the Union address on February 24, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Before giving a policy speech on Iraq, Obama places his hand on his heart as the national anthem is played backstage at the Field House in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Feb. 27, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama arrives at Port Columbus International Airport with Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, and Secret Service on March 6, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama takes a break to shoot hoops on the White House South Lawn basketball court.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

The Obamas walked to Marine One on the South Lawn before heading off on one of their first trips to Camp David.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama runs down the East Colonnade with family dog, Bo, on March 15, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

President Obama reflects during an economic meeting with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 15, 2009. He is seated between Senior Advisor David Axelrod, left, and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama meets with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Spratt Jr. (D-SC), Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, and Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Phil Schiliro, March 17, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama shares a moment with Jay Leno off set of the Tonight Show at NBC Studios, Burbank, California.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama hugs First Lady Michelle Obama in the Red Room of the White House while Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett smiles prior to the National Newspaper Publishers Association reception, March 20, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Senior Advisor David Axelrod and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the Red Room of the White House prior to a live prime time press conference in the East Room.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama rests his foot on a football during the Domestic Policy Council Meeting in the Oval Office.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama looks out the Green Room window prior to the "Open for Questions" virtual town hall meeting on the economy in the East Room of the White House, March 26, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

BlackBerry's, cell phones and communications devices are tagged with post-its during a briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Cabinet Room of the White House.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama makes a point during an interview in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 27, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama conducts interviews in the Map Room of the White House on March 30, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama walks to a podium in the Grand Foyer of the White House before making a statement regarding the American auto industry in March 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

The Obamas were welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II to Buckingham Palace in London while in town for the G20 summit.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama confers with US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner during the G-20 Summit April 2, 2009, at the ExCel Centre in London, England.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama join staff aboard Air Force One during their flight from Stansted Airport in Essex, England, en route to Strasbourg, France.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama, joined by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, receives an enthusiastic welcome to Palais Rohan in Strausbourg, France.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama walks and Sarkozy leave the Palais Rohan following their meeting.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and fellow NATO leaders step down from a photo platform April 4, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama makes remarks at a press conference following the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

President Obama lifts up a baby April 4, 2009, during the U.S. Embassy greeting at a Prague hotel.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

First Lady Michelle Obama waits as President Barack Obama, background, signs the guestbook upon their arrival to Prague Castle, April 5, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama gave a fist bump to a US soldier while visiting troops at Camp Victory in Iraq on April 7, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

President Obama and Michelle smiled at each other inside a White House elevator after a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama makes his way down the stairs of Air Force One April 8, 2009, upon his arrival to Andrews Air Force Base returning from Baghdad, Iraq.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speak together sitting at a picnic table April 9, 2009, on the South Lawn of the White House.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama meets with members of his Cabinet in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama plays with a football in the Oval Office on April 23, 2009.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden practiced their putting skills on the White House green.

(White House Photo/Pete Souza)

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Obama hits the trail again Tuesday, when he heads to Philadelphia to campaign for Clinton as she rests to recover from pneumonia and as her campaign looks to turn around a rough past week in her matchup with the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

In a Washington Post poll released over the weekend, the president's approval rating hit an astounding 58%. That is 15 points higher than it was in a Post poll from right before the 2014 midterm elections. And it's the highest level since he hit that point six months into his presidency.

"He is the most popular Democrat in the country, and as his term comes toward an end, the intensity of love for him only grows," said Steve Schale, a former Obama campaign state director. "'Elect Hillary to protect President Obama's legacy' is a very powerful message for Democrats."

The threshold might seem arbitrary. But historical precedent suggests it could bode well for Clinton, Obama's former secretary of state.

SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine on the trail since the DNC

24 PHOTOS
Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine on the trail since the DNC
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Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine on the trail since the DNC
NEW YORK, NY- Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to journalists after meeting national security experts for a National Security Working Session at the New York Historical Society Library in Manhattan, New York on Friday September 9, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) greets actress Laverne Cox during he LGBT for Hillary Gala at Cipriani Club on September 9, 2016 in New York City. Hillary Clinton is attending fundraisers and in New York City. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WHITE PLAINS, NY - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the Press Corp on the airport tarmac in front of her campaign plane before flying off on a day of campaigning in White Plains, New York on Thursday September 8, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, at the Baptist National Convention at Bartle Hall in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images)
New York, NY - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in a NBC/MSNBC/Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Commander in Chief Forum in midtown Manhattan in New York, New York on Wednesday September 7, 2016. Hosted by Today show co-anchor Matt Lauer. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 06: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her picture taken with a supporter during a voter registration rally at the University of South Florida on September 6, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Florida. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 05: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at Luke Easter Park on September 5, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Clinton is on a Labor Day campaign swing to Ohio and Iowa on a new campaign plane large enough to accommodate her traveling press corp. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 05: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets a supporter during a campaign rally at Luke Easter Park on September 5, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Clinton is kicking off a Labor Day campaign swing to Ohio and Iowa on a new campaign plane large enough to accommodate her traveling press corp. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, speaks at a campaign event during The American Legion National Convention at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Clinton told a veterans group that U.S. leadership is vital to the world and, drawing a contrast with Republican Donald Trump, said that means the White House is no place for a leader who insults allies or threatens to shrink from that role. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 30: Democratic nominee for Vice President Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., holds a campaign rally at the Boys & Girls Club in Lancaster, Pa., on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EDT and features a diverse lineup of guests that includes celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Monday, August 22 included Presidential Nominee and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and John Krasinski ('The Hollars'). (Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images) HILLARY CLINTON, JIMMY KIMMEL
MANHATTAN, NY - AUGUST 18: U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with law enforcement experts at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, NY, on August 18, 2016. (Photo by Yana Paskova/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 17: Democratic candidate for President Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters during a Hillary for America rally at John Marshall High School on August 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH-August 17: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tours John Marshall High School August 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Clinton was scheduled to speak at a rally at the school. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH-August 17: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives at Cleveland Hopkins Airport August 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Clinton was scheduled to speak at a rally at John Marshall High School. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 15: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden conduct a campaign rally at Riverfront Sports in Scranton, Pa., August 15, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Scranton, PA - AUGUST 15: Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets supporters after holding a rally with Vice President Joe Biden at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on August 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours Futuramic Tool & Engineering, before delivering an economic speech and job creation, in Detroit, Michigan on Thursday August 11, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
KISSIMMEE, FL - AUGUST 08: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stands with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) as she attends a campaign rally at the Exhibition Hall in Kissimmee, Florida on August 8, 2016. Clinton continues to campaign to become the President of the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours a small business, Mojave Electric, in Las Vegas, Nevada on Thursday August 4, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VA - AUGUST 01: Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) poses for photos with supporters during a campaign event August 1, 2016 in Richmond, Virginia. Kaine returns to campaign in a homecoming rally after he was picked to be the running mate of Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - On the third day of a bus tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with running mate Senator Tim Kaine, and Anne Holton, aboard the campaign bus in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday July 31, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - On the second day of a bus tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with running mate Senator Tim Kaine, Anne Holton, and President Bill Clinton, speak to and meet Pennsylvania voters during a rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday, July 30, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Early this year, Obama's approval rating hit 50% in the weekly average from Gallup's daily survey. As of Tuesday, it stands at 51%. For Obama, whose approval ratings have been stuck in the low to mid-40s for much of his second term, it was a notable bump.

"While it's hard to pinpoint precisely why Obama's approval rating has risen among Democrats recently, there are a number of plausible explanations," wrote Andrew Dugan, a Gallup analyst, and Frank Newport, the organization's editor-in-chief, in a post earlier this year.

One of the explanations, the pair concurred, was that "the unusual status of the Republican primary race — exemplified in particular by frontrunner Donald Trump's campaign style and rhetoric — may serve to make Obama look statesmanlike in comparison."

"He reminds swing voters of the basic decency they miss in politics," Schale said. "I believe a lot of the increase in his popularity of late has to do with a visceral reaction to the abrasive vitriol of Trump. They see Obama as measured and thoughtful, dare I say with the right kind of temperament to hold the rudder of a nation through the troubled global waters. His style creates an inherent contrast with Trump, and it is a contrast that benefits Clinton."

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the National Guard Association of the United States 138th General Conference and Exhibition in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., September 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike SegarAP

Trump has come into Obama's crosshairs repeatedly as he has hit the trail for Clinton. And with good reason: More so than at any other presidential hand-off in recent history, so many elements of the current administration's legacy are at stake.

The Republican nominee has pledged to undo signature achievements on healthcare (the Affordable Care Act), the environment (historic new regulations aimed at curbing climate change), and foreign policy (the Iran nuclear deal).

Trump has sought to frame Obama's tenure as a disaster. But the president's spiking approval ratings and popularity suggest that argument might become more and more lost on swing-state voters.

"A lot of Republican are misjudging the fact that despite most of the country thinking the nation is on the wrong track, swing voters have a more favorable than unfavorable view of Obama," said Tim Miller, a former spokesman for Jeb Bush's presidential campaign who has been critical of Trump.

"So Republicans in swing states are succeeding — Rob Portman, Joe Heck, Marco [Rubio] — when they highlight their independence and their desire to roll back government policies like Obamacare that are unpopular," he added. "But when Trump claims that Obama is an un-American disaster, that might play on talk radio but it isn't how voters who will decide this election view the world."

Said Favreau: "Trump has convinced himself that the Fox News view of Obama is the public's view, so I hope he keeps making the third-term argument."

Obama's approval ratings at this point are far better than those of President George W. Bush, his predecessor, off whose unpopularity Obama thrived during his 2008 run. His level is most directly comparable to former President Ronald Reagan, who in March 1988 held a 51% approval rating, according to Gallup.

That same year, voters selected George H.W. Bush — Reagan's vice president — to succeed him.

"Yes," said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's former press secretary, when asked earlier this year if Obama's apparent rising popularity poses a problem for the Republican Party.

"Certainly, going into an election spring and summer, it's better to have an incumbent president increasingly popular rather than less popular if you're the incumbent party," he told Business Insider.

The numbers present a striking contrast to some data points associated with the current Republican presidential nominee.

Barack Obama Hillary ClintonAP

A Gallup survey earlier this year revealed that 42% of voters view Trump in a "highly unfavorable" light, compared with 16% who see him highly favorably. That's the highest negative percentage for any major presidential candidate since at least 1956, according to Gallup.

"I've been doing this [since] 1964, which is the Goldwater years," NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart told NBC earlier this year of the relative unpopularity of many of the candidates earlier in the year. "To me, this is the low point. I've seen the disgust and the polarization. Never, never seen anything like this. They're not going up; they're going down."

Closest to Trump? Clinton, whom 33% of the electorate views highly unfavorably.

It helps explain why Clinton is attaching herself to much of Obama's legacy. And Obama remains favorable to wide swaths of constituencies that Clinton needs to turn out to vote in November. The president holds high approval ratings among African-Americans (90%), Democrats (82%), Latinos (73%), and voters aged 18 to 34 (64%), according to Gallup.

"You can't recreate the Obama coalition — she has to build a Hillary coalition," Schale said. "But nonetheless, the president is a motivator, particularly for African American voters."

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