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Polls and Elections: The Polarized Presidency: Depth and Breadth of Public Partisanship


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank Jeffrey Cohen and Costas Panagopoulos for their helpful suggestions.

Brian Newman is an assistant professor of political science at Pepperdine University. He studies presidential approval ratings and disparities in representation. He is the coauthor, with John Griffin, of Minority Report: Evaluating Political Equality in America.

Emerson Siegle is an undergraduate political science major at Pepperdine University.


This essay examines the extent of partisan polarization in the public's views of the president from 1972 to 2008, extending earlier studies by placing the George W. Bush administration in historical context and exploring the depth and breadth of polarization. The authors find that the party gap in presidential approval has grown significantly over time. Moreover, more inpartisans strongly approve of the president and more outpartisans strongly disapprove. In addition, polarization has become broader as assessments of economic conditions, the president's handling of foreign relations, perceptions of the ideological difference between the president and citizens, and views of the president's competence and morality have become increasingly partisan. Suggestive evidence is offered that especially positive or negative views of the economy and “rally” events can alter the extent of polarization. Ultimately, the depth and breadth of polarization may hold dire implications for presidential governance.