University News

Nearly four in five students approve of Obama

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
This article is part of the series Spring 2012 Student Poll

The majority of students approve of how President Obama is handling his job, according to a poll conducted by The Herald March 12-14. A total of 78.8 percent of respondents expressed approval, with 16.5 percent expressing strong approval and 62.3 percent stating that they somewhat approved. Only 12.8 percent disapproved, and 8.5 percent reported that they had no opinion. These strong approval ratings are consistent with previous student feedback. During midterm elections in 2010, 77.5 percent of students expressed approval of Obama’s work, and in 2008, 86.1 percent of students supported Obama for president over Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In contrast to the high approval ratings on campus, Obama has a low national approval rating of 48 percent, according to this week’s Gallup poll.

“The reason (the Herald poll numbers) are as high as they are is that the Obama administration has worked hard to pursue policies that are of particular importance to people of our age group and people of our social and political persuasions,” said Shawn Patterson ’12, president of the Brown Democrats. Specific examples of such policies include student loan reform, health care reform, anti-discrimination fair pay legislation and the repealing of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Patterson said.

Many students expressed that one or all of these issues were important factors in their continued approval of Obama.

“I approve of the job Obama is doing on social matters,” said Brice Gumpel ’14, adding that he thinks Obama’s popularity on campus also has to do with the high percentage of Democrats who attend Brown.

Mario Vega ’14 also said students who come to Brown are disproportionately liberal.

“It has to do with selection bias,” Vega said. “Students who choose to come to Brown knowing it’s a left-leaning institution and have the money and grades to get here are more likely to be Democratic.” Vega cited health care reform and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq as reasons for his support.

But not all students express support for Obama’s policies. Many of the same policies that inspire support in students draw criticism from others.

“I don’t support Obama because I think his economic policies are misguided, and he tries to hand out too much free stuff to the poor,” said Melissa Conant ’14.

Wendy Schiller, associate professor of political science and public policy, suggested that Obama’s popularity at the University goes beyond policy positions. Students have a predisposition to support the Democratic Party rather than approving of actual policy choices made by Obama, she said. “Most students look at Obama through the lens of partisanship,” she said.

Terrence George ’13, president of the Republican Club of Brown University, suggested a similar explanation.

“Students may not actually pay attention to what the president is doing,” George said. “They’re probably going to stay loyal to (Obama) no matter what.”

With the 2012 presidential election on the horizon, metrics such as approval ratings can be helpful indicators of what is to come. Most presidents who have successfully sought reelection have had national approval ratings above 50 percent prior to the race, and most incumbents who lost their bid for reelection had ratings below that, according to the Gallup website. But national approval ratings are not guaranteed predictors of the outcome of an election. George W. Bush had a 49 percent approval rating when he won reelection in 2004.

National Democratic approval ratings usually translate into slightly more votes because Democrats are more likely to get support from groups that are less polled, like people who do not speak English as their first language and the inner city poor, Patterson said.

Schiller also said national approval ratings are not always good indications of election results because they may not compare the person in question to opposing candidates.



Written questionnaires were administered to 1,530 undergraduates March 12-14 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.2 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence.

Find results of previous polls at

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