WASHINGTON — As President Obama’s term in office draws to a close, he’s become an increasingly popular, but still polarizing, chief executive, with the public sharply divided over his legacy.

Overall, according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, nearly half the public says history will remember Obama as an “outstanding” or “above average” president. The 45 percent who say so are the largest share since Ronald Reagan, who was viewed that way by 59 percent.

At the same time, the share saying history will view Obama as a below average or poor president, 27 percent, is higher than for any of his recent predecessors other than George W. Bush, who was seen that way by 57 percent of the public when he left office.

The partisan division over Obama is intense, with seven in 10 Democrats saying he will be remembered as outstanding or above average, but nearly six in 10 Republicans predicting he’ll be seen as below average or poor.

Partisan views of presidents have grown steadily more polarized for a generation. The public is more divided in its view of Obama than it was for Bush, who, in turn, suffered from a wider partisan split than did Bill Clinton.

Obama’s current job approval rating, 58 percent approving versus 37 percent disapproving, involves a similarly sharp partisan division.

Overall, Obama’s ratings are similar to those of Clinton and Reagan as they left office. The public’s view of him has improved markedly all year, with most of the improvement coming among self-identified independents, Pew found.

But while Democrats have consistently held a positive view of him, Republicans have been equally consistent in their negative view. Nine in 10 Democrats approve of Obama’s job performance, compared with 15 percent of Republicans. That’s the widest such partisan gap for any president going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower more than half a century ago.

In addition to the partisan gap, views of Obama also feature a big generation gap. More than three quarters of people in the millennial generation approve of his work. That drops to half of baby boomers and four in 10 among those older than the baby boom.

About half of the public says Obama’s accomplishments will outweigh his failures. But only about a third say he has made progress toward solving major problems.


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