Monday, April 6, 2009

Great Unifier? Pew Center Survey Finds Largest Partisan Gap in Presidential Approval Ratings

The Pew Center has released a study which finds deep partisan divisions in public perception of President Obama's job performance. According to the Pew study, 88% of Democrats and 27% of Republicans hold favorable views of President Obama. The 61-point gap is the largest of four decades.

The partisan gap contradicts one of the most prevalent themes in President Obama's campaign: Only he could unify the country. Although I always questioned and really never believed this narrative (not believing that any candidate would reduce partisanship), the theme strongly shaped his campaign and proved highly effective.

In February 2008, the Editorial Board of the Austin American-Statesman published an editorial that offers very effusive support for Obama and passionately embraces the "unity" theme:
Obama presents a view of governing that is inclusive and relies on Americans to work with their government to solve sobering problems at home and abroad. Obama’s familiar refrain on the campaign trail is, “Yes, we can.”

[Obama's] optimism, unifying vision and ability to inspire are the kind of healing balm the country needs at this moment in history. . . .

At home, we’re divided into red and blue camps. Democrats and Republicans have stoked divisions to advance their party’s interests. Meanwhile, Washington is stumbling along with its red leg moving right and blue one lurching left.

Along the way, elected officials - and the public - have forgotten that those legs are part of the same body. It’s not surprising, therefore, that we’ve danced in place, failing to make progress on the big challenges that confront our country. . . .

No other candidate except Obama offers a way out of that rut. He has articulated a vision that would allow the legs of government to again move fluidly in a natural motion that takes the country forward [boldface text added].
That rosy vision has not taken hold.

The Pew study suggests that the partisanship gap results not only from Republican disapproval of President Obama, but from Democratic approval of him as well. These numbers reflect a historical trend.

Beginning with George Bush, Republicans and Democrats have almost uniformly opposed Presidents from the other party, but they have strongly endorsed their own party's leader. The level of support and disapproval for Carter, Bush, Sr. and Clinton, however, was more evenly distributed among voters in both parties. Although Obama promised to reverse the pattern of partisanship, it seems to have grown larger during his presidency.

Related Reading on Dissenting Justice: Look Who's "Divisive" Now: The Anti-Obama Attacks Similar to Republican Smearing of the Clintons


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to see 88% of Democrats still hold favorable views of Obama. The general feeling I get is disappointment and anger from Democrats (other than PUMAs). Is it that many Democrats still choose to view Obama favorably while placing blame on Geithner and Summers or other staff members for the mistakes that are being made? If 88% of Dems view Obama favorably, then why is his grassroots network falling apart?

Anonymous said...

Dems don't care what Obama does, just so long as it is Obama and not Bush who is doing it. If Bush did exactly what Obama is doing, Dems would have a 80% disapproval rating of him. Bi-partisanship to Obama always meant that he was willing to have conservatives agree with his liberal policies, nothing more.


Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Anonymous #2: The Pew study shows that Republicans gave Bush high ratings as well. I think both partisans are steeped in partisanship these days. Bush enhanced the deficit and threatened "future generations" with his reckless spending, but we only see "tax tea parties" today. Obama is repeating some of the same policies Bush used in the area of fighting terrorism, but liberals are largely silent. Neither side is being consistent, except for a few "dissenting" people who are trying to have a nonpartisan debate.

submandave said...

I was never happy with Bush's spending habits, but I think it is disengenuous to compare the situation under his administration and the situation today and blame a lack of Bush tax protests only on partisanship. While Bush spending policies were reckless and increased the deficit, it did not cary the auspice of being "fair" or the spectre of punishing "the rich" as it has under Obama. Likewise, excess Bush spending was not espoused as just a part of a larger plan to fundamentally "change" the US economic machine. Finally, however much Bush spent, he never had as complicit a Congress to seemingly willy-nilly dole out 13-figure sums at a rate of about $1B/day.

Call it as you see it, but there's much more than partisanship behind the differences in response.

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