Obama widened U.S. rift, 44% of Amer­i­cans re­port

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NATION - By Josh Le­d­er­man and Emily Swan­son

WASH­ING­TON >> More Amer­i­cans feel Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s time in of­fice di­vided the coun­try than feel it brought peo­ple to­gether, a new poll shows. Yet he leaves of­fice held in high es­teem by a solid ma­jor­ity.

Eight years af­ter Obama’s his­toric elec­tion, just 27 per­cent see the U.S. as more united as a re­sult of his pres­i­dency, ac­cord­ing to an Associated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search poll con­ducted af­ter the 2016 elec­tion. Far more — 44 per­cent — say it’s more di­vided.

Those fig­ures un­der­score one of the key con­tra­dic­tions of Obama’s pres­i­dency. By and large, Amer­i­cans like him. Yet, aside from the big Oba­macare health care in­sur­ance over­haul, he has been un­able to trans­late that approval into con­gres­sional ma­jori­ties to ful­fill many of his goals.

“It’s one of the few regrets of my pres­i­dency — that the ran­cor and sus­pi­cion be­tween the par­ties has got­ten worse in­stead of bet­ter,” Obama said last Jan­uary in his fi­nal State of the Union ad­dress.

Still, 57 per­cent say they view Obama fa­vor­ably, putting him way ahead of his pre­de­ces­sor, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, and on par with Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, at the end of their two terms. Clin­ton had the same 57 per­cent but Bush just 40, ac­cord­ing to Gallup polling at the time. Bush’s fa­ther fared bet­ter, with 62 per­cent view­ing him fa­vor­ably at the end of his time in of­fice, de­spite his fail­ure to win a se­cond term.

Just over half say Obama’s pres­i­dency has been great or good. Thirty-seven per­cent view him un­fa­vor­ably.

DID HE KEEP his prom­ises? He did not, in the minds of 2 of 3 Amer­i­cans, though 44 per­cent say he tried.

There’s frus­tra­tion even among many long­time Obama sup­port­ers about the lack of move­ment on ma­jor pri­or­i­ties such as over­haul­ing the na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion laws, en­act­ing gun con­trol mea­sures and shut­ting the pri­son at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

“He acted very pres­i­den­tial, but he just couldn’t get things done,” said Dale Plath, a re­tired sales man­ager from Mason City, Iowa. He said he voted for Obama the first time, voted against him the se­cond, and this year, Plath said: “I voted for change, frankly” — in the form of Don­ald Trump. “Yes, I un­der­stand the Repub­li­cans were against Obama,” Plath said. “But there have been other pres­i­dents in the same sit­u­a­tion, and they were able to pull through.”

OBAMA LEAVES of­fice more pop­u­lar than he was just a few years ago. In De­cem­ber 2014, the month af­ter Democrats lost con­trol of the Se­nate, just 41 per­cent said they viewed him fa­vor­ably in an AP-GfK poll. His com­pli­cated legacy comes into sharper fo­cus when it comes to race. Nearly 8 in 10 African-Amer­i­cans view the na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent fa­vor­ably, but far fewer see his pres­i­dency as hav­ing yielded the type of pro­found changes for black Amer­i­cans that many had hoped.

Just 43 per­cent of AfricanAmer­i­cans say Obama made things bet­ter for black peo­ple, while roughly half say they see no dif­fer­ence. Six per­cent say Obama made things worse.

For Ron­ald Thorn­ton, a 62-year-old African-Amer­i­can from Obama’s adopted home­town of Chicago, change has come only around the mar­gins. Thorn­ton said he views Obama very fa­vor­ably, but he added that even Obama’s big­gest achieve­ment — the Af­ford­able Care Act, or Oba­macare — had come with down­sides for peo­ple like him. “The first year that it went into ef­fect, I didn’t have in­sur­ance,” said Thorn­ton, who later pur­chased care through the Oba­macare mar­ket­places. “I was pe­nal­ized for it that year, and I re­ally don’t have money to pay for that penalty.”

By and large, Amer­i­cans’ views of Obama break along par­ti­san lines. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats and peo­ple who lean Demo­cratic view him fa­vor­ably, while 3 in 4 Repub­li­cans and GOP-lean­ing Amer­i­cans have a neg­a­tive view. Independents are roughly di­vided.

When he took of­fice, the na­tion was in dire eco­nomic straits, with jobs evap­o­rat­ing and a fi­nan­cial cri­sis deep­en­ing by the day. Near the end of Obama’s first year in of­fice, the job­less rate hit a quar­ter-cen­tury high of 10 per­cent. He leaves the White House with unem­ploy­ment at just 4.7 per­cent af­ter 75 straight months of job growth, though it’s come with slug­gish rises in wages, and many older Amer­i­cans sim­ply giv­ing up on find­ing work.

It may be those per­sis­tent chal­lenges that have fueled the per­cep­tion that de­spite the eco­nomic re­cov­ery, things haven’t im­proved enough. Just 4 in 10 Amer­i­cans said they and their fam­i­lies are bet­ter off than when Obama took of­fice, while about a quar­ter say they’re worse off. About a third say they haven’t seen much change.

IRENE PUR­CELL says she felt the dif­fer­ence. The for­mer para­le­gal from Austin, Texas, was strug­gling to find work as a nanny in an econ­omy where too few had the money to hire help. “Just by virtue of him putting a large per­cent­age of Amer­i­cans back into the la­bor force, that made it pos­si­ble for me,” Pur­cell said, as the 3-year-old she now watches squealed in the back­ground. “That was a real good thing.”

The AP-NORC poll of 1,017 adults was con­ducted Dec. 14-19 us­ing a sam­ple drawn from NORC’s prob­a­bil­ity-based Amer­iS­peak panel, which is de­signed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. The mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror for all re­spon­dents is plus or mi­nus 3.7 per­cent­age points. In­ter­views were con­ducted on­line and us­ing land lines and cell­phones.

ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2010

More than half of Amer­i­cans view Pres­i­dent Barack Obama fa­vor­ably as he leaves of­fice, a new poll shows, but Amer­i­cans re­main deeply di­vided over his legacy. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Wash­ing­ton to board the Ma­rine One he­li­copter as he trav­els to Win­stonSalem, N.C.

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