Some of the factors that can increase presidential approval ratings include a thriving economy, low gas prices, positive reaction to international events and overreach from the opposing party. An approval rating of more than 50 percent is considered an important benchmark in a president's legacy.
Presidential approval ratings tend to be based on factors that directly affect average working Americans. While the economy is generally considered the most important factor in a president's approval, the job and housing markets are more influential than the stock market. Economic health has such a profound effect because it provides a constant stream of information on the condition of the United States. President Bill Clinton enjoyed approval ratings above 50 percent for the majority of his second term in office, from 1996 to 2000, due to a period of robust economic health.
Clinton's approval also serves as an example of how overreach from an opposing party can increase presidential approval. The Republican pursuit of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which culminated in the push for Clinton's impeachment, was largely unsupported by the public and led to increased support for the presidenct.
President George W. Bush gained approval after 9/11 because it was seen as a rallying event. Events with an international impact that cause Americans to unify result in increased approval ratings for the president. President Barack Obama gained a similar increase in 2011, when Osama bin Laden was assassinated.
Historically, presidential approvals are high directly after their election or re-election. They can also spike after a State of the Union address. Historians compare approval ratings during similar periods of a presidential term to discover the overall success of the presidency.