What makes Obama unique is the magnitude of his party’s defeat. When he entered office, he and his party had broad control of the government. When he leaves office in two months, the opposition will have broad control of the government. That is quite extraordinary. In fact, during the postwar era, no two-term president has lost more U.S. House seats and state legislative seats than Obama.
What accounts for this? After all, Obama himself remains popular. The latest Gallup poll has his approval rating at a robust 56 percent, on par with Reagan when he left office in 1989. But that number is deceptive. Obama’s approval rating only rose into positive territory during this election cycle, when he no longer dominated the headlines. Before the media focused on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, news centered on the Iran deal, Syria, Libya, immigration, gun control, Obamacare, the stimulus, and so on. The country typically disapproved of his handling of these matters, even as it still held a favorable view of him as a person.
Obama seems to have given big government a bad name. When he was elected in 2008, the exit poll found that 51 percent of Americans thought the government should do more, compared with 43 percent who thought it should do less. But in 2016, after eight years of Obama, the exit poll found that 45 percent thought the government should do more, compared with 50 percent who thought it should do less.