‘POLARIZING’…. The Pew Research Center released a poll a few days ago showing — surprise, surprise — Democrats like President Obama a whole lot more than Republicans do. In fact, according to the Pew report, Obama “has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades.” There’s a 61-point partisan gap — 88% of Democrats approve of the president’s on-the-job performance, while 27% of Republicans say the same.
This has led more than a few conservatives to argue today that this gap is, of course, the president’s fault. Peter Wehner argued, for example, “It became apparent quite early that bipartisanship was a fictional commitment for Barack Obama; shutting Republicans out of negotiations and promoting what ranks among the most left-wing domestic agendas in our lifetime was all the evidence some of us needed. Apparently most of the rest of the nation understands that as well.”
First, I hardly think it’s accurate to say that “most” see the president is overly partisan. In reality, most of the nation approves of Obama’s job performance, and remain unconcerned about partisanship.
The 61-point partisan gap in the Pew survey, while obviously large, is partly the result of Democratic satisfaction. As Andrew Sullivan noted, “The percentage of Republicans approving of Obama at this point is almost identical to that approving of Clinton in 1993.” Obama is, therefore, more “polarizing” because he enjoys more support from Democrats now than Clinton did 16 years ago.
Indeed, Michael Dimock, Pew’s associate director, told Greg Sargent that conservatives are misreading the results of the survey when they blame Obama for the broader dynamic, calling their conclusion “unfair.”
Dimock says the divide is driven by long term trends and by the uncommonly enthusiastic reaction to Obama by members of his own party — by what he calls “the way Democrats are reacting to Obama.”
Interestingly, Dimock also said this phenomenon is partly caused by the recent tendency of Republicans to be less charitable towards new Presidents than Dems have been.
In contrast to the 27% of GOPers approving of Obama now, more than a third of Dems (36%) approved of George W. Bush at a comparable time in 2001. Before that, only 26% of Republicans approved of Bill Clinton at the same time in his presidency, while 41% of Dems approved of both George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan at comparable times.
“Polarizing” is an overly used buzzword, anyway. For most of his second term, George W. Bush wasn’t polarizing; he was just spectacularly unpopular among almost every group and constituency. Dems, Republicans, and independents couldn’t wait for Bush to go. But at least he wasn’t polarizing!
Obama, in contrast, enjoys fairly broad support, including more than one in four Republicans. Conservatives want to say that makes the president “polarizing”? Whatever makes them feel better.