During his defense of Obama’s presidency, Krugman argued that approval ratings are no longer a good indicator of a president’s quality:
Obama has a low approval rating compared with earlier presidents. But there are a number of reasons to believe that presidential approval doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to: There is much more party-sorting (in which Republicans never, ever have a good word for a Democratic president, and vice versa), the public is negative on politicians in general, and so on.
What polarization is in the process of doing — and I’ve had this conversation with Democratic and Republican pollsters — is redefining how we look at the traditional success markers of any president.
Sixty percent-plus approval ratings — unless they come at the very start of a presidency or in the wake of a national disaster or tragedy — are things of the past for as long as the current partisanship gripping the country holds on. Given how vast the gap is between how the two parties view the right next steps for the country — not to mention how negatively they view the other side — it’s impossible to imagine a president enjoying any sort of broad (or even narrow) bipartisan support for any extended period of his or her presidency.
Increasingly, there are two political countries in the U.S.. One, a liberal one, is governed by Barack Obama. The other lacks a clear leader but views itself as at war with Obama’s America. And, there’s no reason to think that if, say, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio gets elected president in 2016, things will be any different. Rubio will be president of a conservative America. The liberal America will see itself in diametric opposition to that America.
My thoughts on Krugman’s article are here.