WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will leave office Friday with his highest approval rating since 2009, his presidency largely viewed as a success, and a majority saying they will miss him when he is gone.
A new CNN/ORC poll finds Obama’s approval rating stands at 60 percent, his best mark since June of his first year in office. Compared with other outgoing presidents, Obama lands near the top of the list, outranked only by Bill Clinton’s 66 percent in January 2001 and Ronald Reagan’s 64 percent in January 1989. About two-thirds (65 percent) say Obama’s presidency was a success, including about half (49 percent) who say that was due to Obama’s personal strengths rather than circumstances outside his control.
Amid those glowing reviews, one-quarter of Americans (25 percent) say Obama is one of the nation’s greatest presidents, far outpacing the share who felt that way about other recent presidents as their terms ended (11 percent described Reagan that way, 10 percent Clinton, and 5 percent or fewer said so about either President Bush). Still, nearly as many (23 percent) call Obama a poor president, more than said so about Reagan, Clinton or the first president Bush, but well below the 46 percent who said George W. Bush was a poor president as he prepared to leave the White House.
That assessment of Obama’s presidency, as well as his approval ratings, are marked by sharp partisan divides. While 54 percent of Democrats consider Obama one of the greatest presidents, 54 percent of Republicans call him a poor president. Though he has earned near universal approval among Democrats (95 percent approve), just 18 percent of Republicans say they approve of how he handled the presidency. That gap explains the difference between Obama’s approval rating and those of the two former presidents who left office with higher marks.
Both Reagan and Clinton held approval ratings above 9-in-10 among their own partisans, yet their approval ratings among those in the opposing party outpaced Obama’s, with 39 percent of Republicans saying they approved of Clinton at the end of his term and 38 percent of Democrats approving of Reagan as he prepared to leave office.
Looking back at the critical issues of the Obama years, Americans give the president positive ratings for handling several issues that were central to his first run for office: the economy, foreign affairs and race relations among them.
Obama took office several months after a massive stock market crash and amid a crisis in the nation’s housing market, and at a time when international impressions of the United States were at a low point, according to polls. At the time of his inauguration, 72 percent expected there to be at least some improvement in race relations following his election as the first black president.
In the new poll, Obama also scores net-positive approval ratings for his work on education, policies toward gays and lesbians, environmental policy and climate change, all areas where policies shifted sharply during Obama’s tenure.
Majorities disapprove, however, of Obama’s work on gun policy, an issue he embraced following the death of 20 children and six adults in a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and his handling of ISIS, which rose to prominence during his time in office. And the public is mixed on his handling of two top domestic issues — illegal immigration and health care policy — and two national security concerns — terrorism and cybersecurity.
All told, Obama’s time comes to an end with 50 percent saying things in the country are generally going well, 50 percent that they’re going poorly. That’s a sharp increase compared with the start of Obama’s time in office. In early 2009, in the midst of an economic crisis, just 21 percent said things in the country were heading the right way, that rose to 49 percent by the time of Obama’s second inauguration, and peaked at 54 percent just before last year’s election.
Similarly, there’s been a sharp turnaround in impressions of the economy under Obama. Now, 57 percent say economic conditions are good, compared with 13 percent in January 2009. Much of that improvement in opinions on the economy came during Obama’s second term. In December, 2012, just after his re-election, that figure had risen to just 26 percent.
Looking ahead, the public is split on whether the country will be better (47 percent) or worse off (48 percent) four years from now, but they are more apt to see improvement on the horizon for the economy, 62 percent say that will be better a year from today. Asked about their own financial situation, 40 percent expect it to improve in the next year, 48 percent say it’ll be the same and 11 percent that it’ll get worse in the first year of Trump’s presidency.
Obama’s favorability rating stands at 63 percent, among the best for recent presidents and his highest since summer 2009. First lady Michelle Obama scores a 69 percent favorability rating, her highest mark since 2012, matching her favorability rating in January 2009 just ahead of Obama’s first inauguration.
The CNN/ORC Poll was conducted by telephone January 12-15 among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.