Obama’s Legacy Likely to be as Polarizing as his Presidency

A recent national survey conducted by Quinnipiac University asked respondents who they considered as the best president of the past 70 years.  Two presidents rose to the top of the heap – Ronald Reagan (30{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) and Barack Obama (29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).

Both Reagan’s and Obama’s support is buoyed by respondents from their respective political party.  In addition, Obama was the top pick among younger respondents, and among a majority of non-white respondents.  In contrast, Reagan was most popular among older and white respondents.



Reagan’s position as a top choice may be unsurprising considering his status as the GOP standard-bearer.  However, it is somewhat of a surprise to see Obama as the number two pick, as he had middling approval ratings throughout his eight years.  His position can likely be attributed to two major factors – recency bias and the early lower approval ratings of the Trump presidency.

Obama ended his term with an especially high approval rating (57{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} RCP average) compared to President Bush (29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} RCP average).  On the contrary, President Trump’s approval rating has hit a low in record time.  This likely has created a sense of nostalgia for the Obama era in Democrats and younger voters – already.

Quinnipiac also asked respondents who they considered the worst president.  Obama’s presidency was as polarizing as any in recent memory, so it’s no shocker that he is also listed near the top as worst President:



A majority of Republicans list Obama as the worst president and choose Carter a distant second, whereas Democrats are split between Nixon and George W. Bush.

As was true throughout most of Obama’s term, he is viewed very favorably by most Democrats and very unfavorably by most Republicans.  It is too early to predict Obama’s legacy – will he be the Democrats’ gold standard (akin to Reagan), or will his popularity decline over time?  But it is not too early to say this: Obama’s legacy will be fascinating to follow.

Public Opinion Strategies