During his fourth year in office, an average of 86% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans approved of the job Barack Obama did as president. That 76-percentage-point gap ties George W. Bush's fourth year as the most polarized years in Gallup records.
The list of most polarized years makes it clear that Obama's highly polarized ratings may be as much a reflection of the era in which he is governing as on Obama himself. The last nine presidential years -- the final five for Bush and Obama's first four -- all rank in the top 10. Thus, it appears that highly polarized ratings are becoming the norm, as Americans aligned with both parties are apparently not looking much beyond the president's party affiliation to evaluate the job he is doing.
Obama's record polarization last year also is owing to the electoral cycle. For most elected presidents, their fourth year in office -- the year all sought re-election -- was the most polarized year of their presidency. The election year likely causes Americans to view the president in more partisan terms, given his involvement in campaigning that year as well as the presence of an active opponent from the other party who is trying to defeat him. The lone exception to the pattern is Dwight Eisenhower, whose sixth year in office was his most polarized.
The average party gap in ratings of President Obama during the four years of his presidency is 70 percentage points. If that average holds, it would surpass Bush's record 61-point average polarization during his eight-year presidency by a considerable margin. Bush also finished his presidency with a significantly larger party gap in job approval ratings than the previous leader, Bill Clinton (55 points).