Most Polarizing President

I know that Obama has been a fairly polarizing president, but ever? This article in the Washington Post argues so.

President Obama ran — and won — in 2008 on the idea of uniting the country. But each of his first three years in office has marked historic highs in political polarization, with Democrats largely approving of him and Republicans deeply disapproving.

For 2011, Obama’s third year in office, an average of 80 percent of Democrats approved of the job he was doing in Gallup tracking polls, as compared to 12 percent of Republicans who felt the same way. That’s a 68-point partisan gap, the highest for any president’s third year in office — ever. (The previous high was George W. Bush in 2007, when he had a 59 percent difference in job approval ratings.)

In 2010, the partisan gap between how Obama was viewed by Democrats versus Republicans stood at 68 percent; in 2009, it was 65 percent. Both were the highest marks ever for a president’s second and first years in office, respectively.

Here is the chart they included.

Note the chart only goes back to 1953. Before that they either had not divided approval rating by party or polling techniques were less certain. I think that this is the sort of conclusion that one develops when not considering historical perspective. I can think of a few presidents who were at least as polarizing as Obama is now. Abraham Lincoln was such a polarizing figure that half the country seceded when he was elected. Franklin Roosevelt was loved by many and just as deeply loathed by many.

I am just a little skeptical by claims that present day politics is somehow uniquely divisive. It couldn’t be worse than the 1850’s.


2 thoughts on “Most Polarizing President”

  1. I would argue that it is the environment, not Obama, that is the most divisive in modern times.

    From the newsroom to our kitchen tables, the current political discourse is “us-versus-them.” My personal belief is that these affirmations are largely handed to us by the media, and repetition of their talking points turns assertions into convictions.

    And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve developed a system for measuring political slant in the news.


    1. You are probably right, though Obama, with the most liberal voting record in the Senate might have been expected to become a rather polarizing figure. Still, I am not sure whether the present time is really more polarized than some past periods in American history. After all, the 1850’s led to secession. I think the 1960’s were more tumultuous.
      One factor in present day politics might be that the media is less monolithic than in recent decades. We don’t have a Walter Cronkite to tell everyone what to think.


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