White House

Poll: This is the issue that will define Obama’s place in history

President Barack Obama waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, as he arrives on Marine One from Florida where he spoke at a Hillary for America campaign event.
President Barack Obama waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, as he arrives on Marine One from Florida where he spoke at a Hillary for America campaign event. AP

President Barack Obama is preparing to leave the White House with job ratings that are almost as favorable as Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s. But when it comes to his legacy, Americans are divided on how much progress he made on solving the country’s problems during his eight years in office, a new Pew Research Poll released Wednesday shows.

When it comes to what Obama’s presidency will be remembered for, more people surveyed pointed to his 2010 signature healthcare law than any other aspect. More than a third said he will mainly be remembered for the Affordable Care Act, while only 17 percent said it will be for being the nation’s black president.

Currently 58 percent say they approve of the job Obama is doing in the White House - the highest his job rating has been since he was re-elected in 2012. His approval rating is at 64 percent, while First Lady Michelle Obama is very popular with a 72 percent approval rating.

Forty-five percent of those surveyed said they expect Obama to be remembered as an “outstanding” or “above average” president. This number is second only to Reagan among recent presidents, who 59 percent believed would be remembered positively.

58 percentPercentage of Americans who say they approve of the job Obama is doing in the White House - the highest his job approval rating has been since he was re-elected in 2012, according to Pew.

Pew’s survey shows that 27 percent think Obama will be viewed as “below average” or “poor” and about the same percentage say he’ll be considered an “average” president. Americans feel much more positively about Obama than they did about his predecessor George W. Bush at the end of his presidency - only 11 percent thought he would be remembered as an “above average” or “outstanding” president.

Unsurprisingly, Americans are sharply divided along party lines when it comes to the question of Obama’s legacy.

Among Democrats and left-leaning independent voters, 78 percent believe that Obama’s accomplishments in office will eclipse his failures. Only 13 percent of Republicans think the same, according to the survey.

There is a 38-point racial gap between African-Americans and whites when it comes to how they think Obama will be remembered - 76 percent of black Americans think he will be remembered positively.

The survey by Pew Research Center polled 1,500 Americans between Nov. 30 and Dec. 5, and has an overall margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

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