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Is Obama polarizing or is America too polarized already?

February 8, 2011

An interesting, if strange poll has been released by Gallup over the post few days which charges that President Obama is the most polarizing President since Dwight Eisenhower.

The poll which also looks at other Presidents effect on the population during their tenure says that:

President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings were even more polarized during his second year in office than during his first, when he registered the most polarized ratings for a first-year president.

They go on to state that his “81% of Democrats and 13% of Republicans” approval, a 68 point difference makes him “easily” the most polarized second year President.

But the question that has arisen across the blogosphere is, Is Obama really polarizing in what he does or are people polarized against him?  After all when you have spent every day since you came into office fighting off Marxt, Commie, Kenyan, Muslim etc charges and rumors, it’s no wonder that one side, the side that thinks this is of you, is less likely to support your plans.

Politics Daily’s “Poll Watch” contends that:

Even some of Sarah Palin‘s supporters might concede she is a polarizing figure. But she gets some stiff competition on that score from President Obama.

But is this a fair comparison?  After all to do some, one may be guilty of missing the dynamics at work in this instance. Just because the public may be seen to be polarized around the figure does not mean that the figure is polarized.

Take for example Sarah Palin.  She has spent the time from her VP nomination and onwards, creating a spector of “Real Americans” which suggests that she thinks there are many that are not.  For example take  a fundraiser speech she made in Greensboro in October 2008, she said:

“We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C. … We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.”

Now doesn’t that suggest that she believes some American’s are not “real” or what she perceives as real?  Compare this with Obama who campaigned on uniting the country not through red states and blue states but the UNITED States of America. He came to power attempting to rebuild the bridge of bipartisanship.

So why is Obama polarizing?  Well according to Gallup, it is a trend that has set forth since GWB‘s tenure, and they suggest that in the past 8 years, spanning 6 years of Bush and Obama’s first 2, “have ranked in the 10 most polarized years in presidential approval ratings since 1953″.

From Gallup's recent poll

Many would suggest it is his policies that have created his divison of the populace against him and it is only when he has made efforts to work with Republicans he has seen his approval shoot up.  However Obama has shown – take the Health Care bill for example – that he is willing to work with the Right – the only problem is when he does, he ends up biting him badly.  See my article from last year about McCain asking for concessions to see my further thoughts on that.

Obama is not polarizing in his actions – at least not 100% – of course there will always be those who will draw at party lines and deem anything else as divisionary.  However as I mentioned earlier, when Obama has been accused by his opponents of being a Communist, a Marxist, a Muslim usurper with a Kenyan birth certificate, therefore not eligible for office, when he has been accused of “palling around with terrorists” and called “unconstitutional” at every turn he makes, it becomes clear that the polarization is less to do with Obama and more to do with what people perceive him to be.  His opponents, as they have never been able to do before despite great attempts, smeared him in such a way that worryingly many now believe these accusations, therefore ensuring that support will always be out of reach.

Ryan Jaroncyk from the CA Independant Voter Network suggests that America itself has to bear some the blame for this polariztion therefore;

Perhaps the American people should bear part of the blame, then. Obama’s approval rating, like that of Bush, may be more reflective of a populace that has succumbed to mindless partisanship, rather than independent-minded critical thinking.  “Cheering for one’s team” has replaced fair-minded evaluation and results-oriented policy assessment.

And he is right – just look at message boards and blogs – I guess I am part of the problem too – politics has become so much about ticking boxes that it has almost come down to passing a litmus test and to be a part of the party, you must display the right result or you are accused of being a RINO or DINO.  There are no elastic parameters any more – it’s an either or.

Robert Gibbs suggested that it is Washington itself that is possibly to blame;

“I think we live in a divided country…Washington has been a polarizing place for quite some time.”

It is certainly true that America’s people feel teh government is very out of step with the people and the state the country was left in following Bush has not helped in healing divisions.

However is it just Obama?  I do not think so.  And I think you only have to look at the events of the past two years to see this, the rise of the Tea Party and the increasing division between America’s various representatives.  When America’s media are now seen as one side of the aisle of the other – and one side with a notable viewer command is the basis for most of the polarizing commentary, I ask again, Is Obama really polarizing in what he does or are people polarized against him?

BTW compare this once again with Palin, who is believed to be the most polarizing political figure in America.  According to an AP-GFK Poll, Palin is “the most polarizing of the potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, while impressions of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney lean more positive” (MSNBC)

As Outside the Beltway suggests:

This is consistent with polls that we’ve seen for months that show that the public’s opinion of Sarah Palin is largely set in stone. People either like her or dislike her, and in both cases the feeling is typically strong and seemingly immobile.

Again this is typically down partisan lines – Republicans love her but Democrats and Independents do not by and large.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2011 6:25 pm

    I want to believe it is Obama’s race that is the polorizing factor but I wonder if it also the amount of education this man has. Like Clinton, he is a self-made man who went to the best schools and had astonishing success. That is scary for “regular” Americans who may have felt lucky to graduate high school. But what is sad is that Obama is living the American dream and vilified for it.

  2. afrankangle permalink
    March 16, 2011 12:31 pm

    Interesting thought to ponder. I would say that not only are we Americans more polarized than ever, the instant media of today accentuates the polarization. Thus, I don’t see President Obama as polarizing b/c Sarah Palin is the prime example of polarization … thus Mr. President doesn’t measure up to her standard. Well done Emma!

  3. February 8, 2011 5:11 pm

    As for the polls, I look at it as six of one, and a half dozen of the other.
    President Obama is a well educated person, and knows how to present himself. As for Palin, knows nothing, talks nonsense, and not even a politician. One more thing, she has a lot of disrespect for the president and first lady Michelle. Enough said.

    • February 9, 2011 10:08 am

      I agree Don, polls change and are all dependent on the demographics. I mean it’s no wonder polls are as skewed as they are today given most pollsters will admit to targetting a certain audience for a certain share of the vote. However what made this interesting is the numbers were thrown out but many did not ask the wider the question – why? And is it really Obama or is it something more.
      As for Palin, I very much agree – the woman may claim to just not like the POTUS and FLOTUS but her mean spirited comments and also sychphantic need to pick at everything they do, shows not just a dierespect for people even if you do not share their ideals, but a direspect for the office of POTUS – something that if you mentioned it to her would probably go way over her head.

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