Do Americans approve of Obama’s presidency?

Why do a lot of Americans hate Obama? From outside the US it feels like he was a good president and implemented good laws but I can see there is this hate against him.

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Recent Gallup polls show that President Obama’s approval rating, as he nears the end of his second term, has improved significantly from an all-time low of 40 in 2014. There is certainly some discontent over his leadership but it’s directed more at the policies he’s enacted and has little to do with personal hate. It’s difficult to point to a single source for the displeasure but a few common themes pop up repeatedly in conversations and in the media.

Race is still an issue in America

Racism is still a part of American society. The extent varies across regions but it is still a factor. The popularity of conspiracy theories that plagued Obama’s campaign — the birther scandal that questioned his citizenship and a separate claim that he was secretly a Muslim — were considered to be racially motivated.  It’s difficult to estimate what percentage of the population disapprove based on race but it’s unlikely to be a huge number.

Gains from economic recovery not evenly spread

Obama was handed over a disaster: a fragile economy, massive deficit, and widespread unemployment. In the eight years that he’s been president, the economy has improved significantly. Overall unemployment rate has reached pre-recession levels (see trend), but the gains have not been spread evenly across society. While new industries are being created, others are being shut down and those unable to keep up with the changes have been stagnant for close to a decade. People who have not benefited from the recovery are unlikely to approve of the president. If you assume that all those who are not employed do not approve of the president, that’s about 5%-10% of the eligible working population.

Ideological Differences

The widening gap between conservatives and liberals is likely the biggest contributor to the disapproval equation. In a recent conversation with Chris Anderson at TEDx New York, Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, cites the “purification” of the political parties — a trend seen in American politics over the past three decades — as a major reason the divide between Republicans and Democrats. The Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” — a focal point of Obama’s tenure — drew strong opposition from conservatives. Without room for different perspectives ideas that, in the past, caused disagreement now result in disgust. Fierce loyalty to a party and its philosophy result in automatic disapproval of the other side as a whole, not just their ideas.

Even in the best of circumstances leading a nation is complicated. In the US, this is exacerbated further by the polarization of the two major parties and the differing needs of a culturally diverse population.  Add to this the fact that the president represents three distinct groups – the people, the party, and the executive branch of government – each with their own, sometimes conflicting demands and you’re guaranteed one thing a president will never attain: universal approval.

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