Americans continue to place more blame for the nation's economic problems on George W. Bush than on Barack Obama, even though Bush left office more than three years ago. The relative economic blame given to Bush versus Obama today is virtually the same as it was last September.
Gallup first asked this "blame assessment" question in July 2009, six months after Obama became president. At that point, 80% of Americans gave Bush a great deal or a moderate amount of blame, compared with 32% who ascribed the same level of blame for the bad economy to Obama. The percentage blaming Bush dropped to about 70% in August 2010, and has stayed roughly in that range since. Meanwhile, about half of Americans have blamed Obama since March 2010, with little substantive change from then to the present.
Americans continue to name the economy as the most important problem facing the country, and in an election that likely will be defined by a struggling economy, the question of who is responsible for it will weigh heavily in voters' minds. Both Obama and presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a result have focused heavily on the economy in their campaigns, the most recent example of which is the major economic speech Obama will deliver Thursday in the key swing state of Ohio. Romney has attempted to place blame for the country's continuing economic struggles squarely on Obama's shoulders. At the same time, the Obama campaign is trying to deflect blame away from the president, in part by assigning blame to his predecessor.
The relative amount of blame Americans give to Obama and to Bush has largely stabilized over the last two years. It remains to be seen whether Americans are open to further discussion of those issues in the months remaining before the Nov. 6 election, or whether their minds are made up.
Half of Republicans Blame Bush
Republicans and Democrats distribute economic blame in different ways, as was the case last September. Democrats follow what might be described as a fairly traditional pattern: 90% blame Bush, in contrast to 19% who blame Obama.
Republicans, however, are more ecumenical in their blame, with 83% blaming Obama a great deal or moderate amount and 49% ascribing the same level of blame to Bush. Republicans, in short, are significantly more willing to blame their most recent Republican president than are Democrats willing to blame Obama.
Independents are substantially more likely to blame Bush (67%) than to blame Obama (51%) for the nation's economic problems, a finding that no doubt provides some comfort to the Obama re-election campaign. And fewer independents blame Obama now than did so last September (60%).
Although the Obama campaign would like to make this election less of a referendum on Obama's performance and more of a choice between two candidates, it is clear that any incumbent's stewardship of the economy is a key factor in his re-election chances. Americans continue to have more negative than positive views of the current economy and the direction in which it is headed, which generally does not bode well for Obama.
Still, 68% of Americans say former President Bush should be given a great deal or a moderate amount of blame for the nation's economic woes -- substantially more than say the same about Obama. This suggests that Obama's argument that he is on the right track and needs more time to turn the economy around could fall on receptive ears, particularly those of independents.