POLITICS
01/20/2016 04:04 pm ET

We're More Divided As A Nation Than Ever, And This Poll On Obama's Legacy Shows It

Republicans and Democrats may as well have been living in different countries for the past eight years.
President Barack Obama returns to the White House after taking his January State of the Union messages on a two-day trip
Alex Wong via Getty Images
President Barack Obama returns to the White House after taking his January State of the Union messages on a two-day trip to Omaha, Nebraska, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Democrats are largely receptive to his message; Republicans are not.

When President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union address last week, he was speaking to two very different countries.

One of them he leaves happier and better off than it was when he started his tenure in the White House nearly eight years ago, with an improving economy and a dominant international position. The other is, by almost every measure, worse.

Call them the "liberal America" and the "conservative America" that he decried in his 2004 keynote DNC address as the creation of political pundits.

A majority of Democrats in a new HuffPost/YouGov poll say that since Obama took office, their own lives have improved, the economy has gotten better and the United States has retained its role as the most powerful nation on Earth.

Republicans disagree on all three points.

The partisan divide over the president's legacy, and the direction of the country as a whole, transcends all other demographic lines, far outstripping age, race, region or income level. The only real point of agreement between the parties, in fact, is the near-universal sentiment that partisanship has worsened over the past eight years.

Both Democrats and Republicans' opinions of the president's legacy are largely baked in by the same sort of lockstep partisanship that's kept his approval rating remarkably consistent across the majority of his time in the Oval Office.

If there are any minds left to be changed, they belong to political independents, who tend to fall somewhere in between the two parties but lean toward the pessimistic.

Independents tend to feel, though not overwhelmingly, that their own situations have worsened since 2008, that the economy has declined and the U.S. has become weaker. Like Republicans, they don't believe that things have gotten better either for themselves or for most people since Obama took office. Compared to their GOP counterparts, however, they're more inclined to think that at least some people have benefited -- a difference that could reflect either greater contentment, or, less optimistically, a sense that they're being left behind in a system that's allowing others to get ahead.

Some objective measures of Obama's tenure are available. As HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn noted, the employment-to-population ratio, which measures the strength of the American job market, is higher than it was when Obama took office, even if it's yet to reach pre-recession highs. Pew Research, which measures international views of the U.S., found last year that opinions of our nation across the globe are largely positive.

But with the general election looming, and a debate over the merits of Washington's establishment already in full swing, Americans' perceptions -- especially among the narrow slice of potential swing voters -- may matter more than any of the actual statistics.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Jan. 14-18 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.

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