Poll: Nearly five years into Obama's presidency, most Americans still blame Bush for economic problems

John Sexton flagged this tidbit from WaPo’s new poll two days ago, then WaPo itself paid some attention to it today. I’ve written about this phenomenon more than once before myself. Simple question: When, oh when, will public sentiment shift to the point where Obama owns the economy?

Increasingly, it seems like never.

Nearly five years after George W. Bush left office, half the public still blames the former president for the nation’s economic woes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week. The survey comes as Republicans have continued to keep the 43rd president at arm’s length…

Fifty percent of Americans say Bush is more responsible for the country’s current economic problems than President Obama, the Post-ABC poll shows. Just 38 percent hold Obama more responsible. Seven percent assign equal blame.

In nearly two years of of Post-ABC surveys, opinions have barely budged.

“Barely budged” is right. Here’s what the trends on Bush’s culpability among Democrats, Republicans, and independents look like in WaPo polls since the beginning of 2012:


Democratic and Republican numbers have hardly moved in nearly two years. Independents have dipped a bit, from 57 percent in January 2012 to 48 percent now, but that’s still 10 points higher than the number of indies who blame Obama for the country’s economic problems. Static polling on this subject isn’t unique to WaPo, either. Here are two data sets from Gallup and Quinnipiac, respectively, that I flagged last year in another post marveling at how little volatility there was on the blame question:

I used to think the stasis was a function of partisanship hardening during an election year and that, if O got reelected, his culpability for the economy would start to climb this year. Nope. I also thought that Bush would fare better with younger adults since the youngest of them might not remember his presidency as well and would be inclined to blame O by default. Big nope there too:


Older voters are more likely to blame Obama. The 40-64 demographic says Bush deserves more culpability, but by only a 48/40 spread, and the 65+ crowd actually puts O ahead of Bush, 46/43. That’s in line with younger voters skewing more left and older voters skewing more right. Here, as in so much else, partisan perceptions color a lot.

But it’s not just partisanship or else indies would be more evenly split than they are. There are two factors locking the numbers in, I think. One, obviously, is that the financial crisis happened on Bush’s watch and the country has yet to enjoy a stretch of sustained prosperity since. You can argue that we would have had that stretch if not for the genius of Obamanomics and hiring chaos created by ObamaCare’s employer mandate, but that’s not how the average person sees it, I suspect. They see it more as Bush having let the country fall into a hole so deep that we’ve yet to dig our way out. That’s why even independents, who lean right on so many other issues, are closer to the Democratic view here. Two: O’s got the bully pulpit on this. Whatever you think of Democratic mumbling about income inequality and minimum-wage hikes (which are hugely popular with voters), those are vivid, relatively easily grasped concepts that people can apply to economic problems and Obama hasn’t been shy about touting them lately. The GOP has no similarly accessible narrative, just overregulation and “uncertainty.” If you’re an undecided with no strong political leanings who’s having a tough go in the economy, which magic-bullet explanation would appeal more to you?

Exit question: What’ll these numbers look like in 2016? Gulp.

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