Pew Research Center shows us Tuesday that the job approval rating for President Barack Obama – now at 51 percent – is much higher among Millennials.
President Obama’s approval rating is 62 percent among Millennials, according to Pew. Meanwhile 50 percent of Generation Xers, only 43 percent of Baby Boomers, and just 37 percent of Silent Generation think positively of Obama’s job.
Historically, though, Millennials have been most supportive of Obama. Most Americans were high on Obama early in his presidency (all generations reporting a 60+ percent approval rating), but that changed dramatically within one year. The Silent Generation has traditionally been most critical, with numbers hovering in the 35-40 range (though at times touching the Boomers), while Baby Boomers settled in around 40-50 percent relatively quickly. Generation X has had little fluctuation – there was a low point around 2010 at about 45 percent, but for the most part the cohort has hung out around 50 percent.
Millennials started up at 73 percent in 2009, then the approval rating fell to around 55 percent in 2010. There have been minor spikes into the 60s since 2012, but since 2015 we’ve seen a steady incline.
I wrote recently about the Millennial love of President Obama, how it never translated into real action and, instead, gave way to more divisiveness and a greater disillusion toward governing. Millennials have always said to be been stronger on Obama than other generations – makes sense: younger group, more liberal and free-thinking. But apathy at the polls and a general malaise has shown that it was all a front. But here we are: 2016, and Obama is enjoying high approval ratings among Millennials once again.
Note on the graph the crescendo at the end of 2012. That’s Obama’s reelection. For much of his first term Millennials were hanging with the other generations, with just a slight gap showing. Then, suddenly, at election time the numbers soared and the gap widened.
Now look at 2016. Obama is nearing the end of his presidency, and a new election cycle has given us a palette of extremely flawed and divisive candidates.
This newest spike (and gap) may have nothing to do with Obama’s policies, or really, his actual job. It may have everything to do with nostalgia and wistfulness – all of a sudden Millennials are sad Obama has to go.
At least that’s what we’ve seen in the past – 2012 shows in spades that Millennials weren’t very concerned about policy, just about throwing support to boost their own image. But Millennials showed that steady incline from 2015, while other generations actually lost support in Obama. Major events during that time period: the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, the Iran nuclear agreement and Pope Francis’ 2015 visit.
These were all news events of which Millenials seemed to approve. So maybe they’re coming around on presidential politics; maybe they’re not just throwing support (or denying support) only when it’s convenient for them.
The test will come after the 2016 election cycle, when a new president is installed that may either be uber-Millennial-focused (Bernie Sanders), or completely not focused on the younger cohort (anyone else). How Millennials respond will reveal how invested they truly are in the political process.