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Obama Approval Ratings Still Historically Polarized

Obama Approval Ratings Still Historically Polarized

Story Highlights

  • Avg. 70-point gap in Democratic vs. Republican ratings of Obama
  • Ties George W. Bush's sixth year as fifth most polarized
  • Obama, Bush have had most politically polarized job approval

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Throughout President Barack Obama's sixth full year in office, an average of 79% of Democrats, compared with 9% of Republicans, approved of the job he was doing. That 70-percentage-point party gap in approval ratings ties for the fifth-most-polarized year for a president in Gallup records dating back to 1953.

Presidential Years With Largest Gaps in Approval Ratings by Party, Gallup Polls, 1953-2014

Each of Obama's six years in office rank among the 10 most polarized in the last 60 years, with George W. Bush holding the other four spots. Bush's most polarized years were his fourth through seventh years in office, after the rally in support for him following the 9/11 terror attacks had faded. Clearly, political polarization has reached new heights in recent years, under a Republican and a Democratic president.

Bush's and Obama's approval ratings were most polarized along party lines in their fourth years in office -- which has been the case for most presidents because that is the year they seek re-election. Both Bush and Obama saw their polarization scores ease slightly in their fifth year, and go down a bit more in year six. Bush's polarization score dropped even further in his seventh year, as his overall job approval ratings continued to decline.

No Other Presidents' Sixth-Year Polarization Close to Bush's, Obama's

The structure of job approval in Obama's and Bush's sixth years in office was remarkably similar -- with 79% approval among supporters of the president's party, and 9% from supporters of the opposition party. Not surprisingly, Bush and Obama had by far the most polarized sixth years for presidents who served into a sixth year. In Bill Clinton's sixth year, there was an average 53-point gap in his approval ratings, 17 points lower than those of his immediate successors. Clinton's polarization score was a bit lower because his overall approval rating in year six, 64%, was much higher than Bush's (37%) or Obama's (43%). The other presidents serving into a sixth year had polarization scores below 50 points -- including Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, who were popular at the time, and Richard Nixon, who had historically low approval ratings. Nixon resigned in August 1974, in the middle of his sixth year in office.

Gaps in Approval Ratings by Party for Presidents' Sixth Year in Office, Gallup Polls, 1953-2014

Obama on Pace to Have Most Polarized Approval Ratings

So far in his presidency, there has been an average party gap of 70 points in Obama's approval ratings, which, if it continues, would be easily the highest for any president to date. Bush is second with a 61-point gap throughout his presidency, followed by Clinton (56) and Reagan (52). The other presidents had party gaps of no more than 41 points.

Average Gaps in Approval Ratings by Party for Presidents, Gallup Polls, 1953-2014

Obama's more polarized ratings are attributable mainly to lower support from the opposition party than his predecessors received. His average 13% approval rating among Republicans is 10 points lower than Bush's 23% approval rating among Democrats and 13 points below Clinton's 26% approval among Republicans. All other presidents had approval ratings of at least 30% from the opposition party.

Obama's approval rating from Democrats, 83%, almost exactly matches the average approval ratings that the prior four presidents received from supporters of their own party.


Both Bush and Obama were elected with hopes of unifying the country. However, the opposite has happened, at least in the way Americans view the job the president is doing, with presidential evaluations more divided along party lines than ever before. These increasingly partisan views of presidents may have as much to do with the environment in which these presidents have governed as with their policies, given 24-hour news coverage of what they do and increasingly partisan news and opinion sources on television, in print and online.

Operating within this context, Obama is on pace to be the president with the most polarized approval ratings in Gallup's polling history, surpassing Bush. Aside from the initial two months of Obama's presidency, Republicans have consistently rated the job he is doing very negatively -- to this point, far worse than supporters of the opposition party have ever rated a president.

Obama's overall job approval ratings have improved modestly to the high 40s in recent weeks, but if he cannot boost his support among Republicans, it is unlikely that his overall approval ratings can go much above 50%. By comparison, during Clinton's last three years in office, when he averaged better than 60% approval overall, his support among Republicans exceeded 30%.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 20, 2014-Jan. 19, 2015, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 177,032 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total samples of 53,288 Democrats and 50,022 Republicans, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Daily tracking works.

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