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Poll: Americans High on Obama, Divided on His Legacy

obMore than half of Americans view President Barack Obama favorably as he leaves office, a new poll shows, but Americans remain deeply divided over his legacy. Fewer than half of Americans say they’re better off eight years after his election or that Obama brought the country together.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted after the 2016 election illuminates one of the key contradictions of Obama’s presidency. By and large, Americans like him. Yet Obama has been unable to translate that approval to many of his policies, or to parlay his popularity into fulfillment of his goals.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans said they view Obama favorably, while 37 percent said they have an unfavorable view. Just over half said Obama’s presidency has been great or good.

Those figures contrast sharply with how Americans viewed Obama just a few years ago. In December 2014, the month after Democrats lost control of the Senate, just 41 percent said they viewed Obama favorably in an AP-GfK poll.

Did Obama keep his promises? He did not, in the minds of 2 of 3 Americans. Forty-four percent say he tried to make good but failed, more than the 22 percent who say he didn’t keep promises at all or the 32 percent who said he did keep them.

Those figures reflect the frustrations felt even among many longtime Obama supporters about the lack of progress on major priorities such as overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, enacting gun control measures and shuttering the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“He acted very presidential, but he just couldn’t get things done,” said Dale Plath, a retired sales manager from Mason City, Iowa. He said he voted for Obama the first time, voted against him the second, and this year, Plath said: “I voted for change, frankly” — in the form of Donald Trump.

“Yes, I understand the Republicans were against Obama,” Plath said. “But there have been other presidents in the same situation, and they were able to pull through.”

Still, Obama will exit the White House in far better shape than his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who was viewed favorably by just 40 percent of Americans in polling conducted by Gallup as his presidency closed in January 2008. Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, fared better, with 62 percent viewing him favorably at the end of him time in office, despite his failure to win a second term.

Obama is roughly on par with President Bill Clinton, who was also viewed favorably by 57 percent of Americans at the end of his eight years in the White House.

The nation’s first black president and his complicated legacy come into sharper focus when it comes to race. Nearly 8 in 10 African Americans view him favorably, but far fewer see his presidency as having yielded the type of profound changes for black Americans that many once hoped.

Just 43 percent of African Americans said Obama had made things better for black people, while roughly half said they saw no difference. Six percent said Obama had made things worse.

For Ronald Thornton, a 62-year-old African American from Obama’s hometown of Chicago, change has come only around the margins. Thornton said he views Obama very favorably, but added that even Obama’s biggest achievement — the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” — had come with downsides for people like him.

“The first year that it went into effect, I didn’t have insurance,” said Thornton, who later purchased care through the Obamacare marketplaces. “I was penalized for it that year, and I really don’t have money to pay for that penalty.”

The sharp divisions in American society exposed by the 2016 elections are striking given the high hopes for national unity that took hold after Obama’s historic 2008 election. Eight years later, just 27 percent see the U.S. as more united as a result of his presidency. Far more — 44 percent — say it’s more divided.

Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats and people who lean Democratic view him favorably, while 3 in 4 Republicans and GOP-leaning Americans have a negative view. Independents are roughly divided.

“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better,” Obama said last January in his final State of the Union address.

When he took office, the nation was in dire economic straits, with jobs evaporating and a financial crisis deepening by the day. Near the end of Obama’s first year in office, the jobless rate hit a quarter-century high of 10 percent. He leaves the White House with unemployment at just 4.7 percent after 75 straight months of job growth, though it’s come with sluggish rises in wages and as many older Americans simply gave up on finding work.

It may be those persistent challenges that have fueled the perception that despite the economic recovery, things haven’t improved enough. Just 4 in 10 Americans said they and their families are better off than when Obama took office, while about a quarter say they’re worse off. About a third say they haven’t seen much change.

Irene Purcell said she felt the difference. The former paralegal from Austin, Texas, was struggling to find work as a nanny in an economy where few had the money to hire help.

“Just by virtue of him putting a large percentage of Americans back into the labor force, that made it possible for me,” Purcell said, as the 3-year-old she now watches squealed in the background. “That was a real good thing.”


13 Responses


    As far as a legacy; yes he does, the worst president in history, more diversion between people in America, least working force ever.

  2. I lot of people are forgetting is that part of his legacy, admittedly subtly, is that he used the prestige of his office to get a lot of countries to take more diligent action to protect the nuclear materials under their control from falling into the wrong hands. It’s known that Al Queida was trying hard to get hold of such materials and nearly succeeded a few times. It may be impossible to know if his efforts, which he coordinated with Republican experts in the field, did actually prevent catastrophes from happening, but he did as much as he could and they might well have prevented serious disaster. As one observer put it sardonicly (talking about Republican efforts to reduce funding for such programs), “One terrorist nuke made from FSU fissionable materials can spoil your whole day.” Or as Dick Cheney once said, if there’s a one percent chance of a major catastrophe, you treat it like it’s a certainty.

  3. Obama’s legacy is LIAR-IN-CHIEF who became President illegally with a fake and forged birth certificate and he’s ending his Presidency with LIES about Russian hacking.

    This LIAR-IN-CHIEF – if he’s not dragged out of office immediately – will start WWIII against Russia before Trump’s Inauguration and claim Russia started it. Wait and see.

  4. I don’t get it. His Affordable Act is raising premiums. The Russians and Iranians think he’s irrelevant. He antagonized our allies like Germany, Great Britain, and Israel. He promoted social issues like bathrooms for any thing you think you are,and he incited racial rift. He couldn’t get along with Congress. His Party is at it’s weakest.What is there to be favorable about him?

  5. #1 More people voted for Hillary than Trump. Hillary won the popular vote by close to 3 million votes. Trump garnered 46.1% while Hillary received 48.2%.

    Obama did a lot of good by bringing down the unemployment rate, creating jobs, expanding health care coverage, helping the housing and stock markets rebound and by eliminating terrorists and keeping America out of costly overseas entanglements.

    America recognizes the good that he has done. Let us hope that the president-elect has the necessary maturity and acumen to keep this country moving in the right direction.

  6. Arye – It is shocking and beyond comprehension that you use lies to accuse President Obama of lying.

    The president was born in Hawaii. It has been factually established. Even Trump does not challenge that now. (Alos keep in mind that Ted Cruz was clearly born in Canada and Republicans did not consider that to be disqualifying)

    Russia was accused of hacking by every branch of US intelligence. It is a consensus view. Trump is the one who refuses to recognize any factual reality that bruises his overinflated ego.

  7. #6 Your entire post is lies just like the Obama, lies, lies, lies, full of lies and bobkess.

    According to your namesake you obviously need a real good expensive calculator to figure things out. Hillary won with 2.9 million votes more than Trump, right?, including 4 million dead voters plus 3 million illegal immigrants plus who-knows-how-many-millions of stuffed ballots for her plus who-knows-how-many-millions of rigged machines voting for her. Now with your new powerful calculator you will be able to figure out how Trump won the popular votes too in a huuuuge landslide! Good luck!

    Obama’s massive unemployment rate of almost 25% is the largest of any president.

    And healthcare coverage? There’s good reason Trump is replacing it on Day 1 and you know it too.

    And by the way, Obama is leaving an almost 20 trillion dollars of national debt, an increase of 9.4 trillion dollars since he came to office.

    The only good thing he’ll be doing is that he’ll finally be leaving.

  8. “Poll: Americans High on Obama, Divided on His Legacy”

    Those “Americans” that are “High” on Obama are probably also high on illegal substances.

  9. #3 – what in the world are you talking about?

    #7 (justplainCrazy) – lowest workforce participation. healthcare disaster (you recount people who had good insurance but were forced off of it). which costly overseas entanglements are we out of???

    oh, the popular vote. she also won in Best Pantsuit category of Miss America – in other words, SO WHAT.

  10. #6) Arye: Facts don’t lie. Repeating unsubstantiated conspiracy theories that have no factual basis do not make them true no matter how much you want to believe them.

    #9) MIG: The national polls were pretty accurate the RCP poll of polls basically mirrored the actual election results.

    #10) Yossi613: Obamacare has expanded coverage for millions of Americans. Most Americans on Obamacare are happy with their coverage. I am and I am paying much less than I paid pre-Obamacare.

    #10) Yossi613: No overseas adventurism like the Iraq war fiasco. More terrorists killed by drone strikes than any other president and less US serviceman in combat overseas.

    Obama did a fine job. That is why a majority of Americans view him favorably.

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