As we can see, polarization was very high during the Clinton and Bush 43 years – and both of these men had highly contentious tenures. President Clinton had to deal with a resurgent Republican Party that wanted big changes in government, especially with the 1995/96 budget showdown. It eventually impeached him. President Bush alienated Democrats relatively early in his tenure, and by the end of his time in government he was isolated and unapproved. Ultimately, both men paid a personal price for contributing to the increased the partisan rancor.

President Obama in particular is running this risk – not simply because his governing style has been highly partisan to date, but also because he explicitly promised during the campaign that it would not be. These Pew numbers are an early warning of the slide among Republicans. Obama is losing them now, just as Bush lost the Democrats early in his term.