Opinions On Barack Obama's Economic Legacy Don't Have Much To Do With The Economy

Views are once again divided along partisan lines.
U.S. President Barack Obama leaves after delivering a statement on the economy at the press briefing room at the White House
U.S. President Barack Obama leaves after delivering a statement on the economy at the press briefing room at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 6, 2016.

President Barack Obama says his economic legacy is a lot better than he gets credit for.  “I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform,” he told The New York Times recently. “By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.”

The public, though, doesn't exactly agree. While the president's approval rating on the economy is, on average, about as high as it's been at any time since late 2009, it remains slightly underwater.

Obama is the first president since 1960 who hasn't seen his approval rating rise along with gains in consumer sentiment. In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, just one-third of Americans said that Obama made things better for the economy after the financial crisis. Another 37 percent said he made things worse, while 18 percent said he didn't have much impact, and 12 percent weren't sure. 

Americans' views of Obama's effect on their personal financial situation is even more bleak. Just 18 percent thought that Obama has made things better for their own financial situation since he took office, with the rest largely split between believing that he made things worse and that he didn't do much.

There's a modest gap in views between the wealthiest households and everyone else. Those in households making $100,000 or more are 8 percentage points more likely than those making less than $50,000 to give Obama credit for improving the economy, and 9 points more likely to say he helped their own financial situations.

Assessments of Obama's economic legacy, though, have a lot more to do with partisanship than they do with income. Two-thirds of Democrats, but just 6 percent of Republicans, think Obama made things better after the financial crisis; 39 percent of Democrats, and just 2 percent of Republicans, give him credit for helping them personally.

To demonstrate just how much that partisanship plays a role in views of the economy, the HuffPost/YouGov poll split respondents into two groups. Half were asked about the performance of the economy since the year 2008. Half were asked how things had changed since Obama was elected.

Republicans in the second group -- the ones responding directly to questions about Obama -- were considerably more likely to say things had gotten worse. They were 19 points more likely to say their personal financial situation had gotten worse, and 20 points more likely to say that the economy as a whole had declined, if they were asked to compare things to "when President Obama was first elected" rather than "the year 2008."

Democrats and independents didn't show similarly significant differences on those questions. But polarization popped up in another way: Democrats in the group who saw Obama's name were far more reluctant to admit that income inequality has risen during his tenure than those in the group who didn't see his name.

How the public views Obama's economic record matters for his legacy, but also for this year's election, which will serve partially as a referendum on eight years of Democratic policies. As recent polling shows, while concerns have faded since the crash, the economy remains the top issue on Americans' minds.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted May 3 to May 5 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.