- Released January 14, 2010
Barely Making the Grade: Obama's First Year
IPS scholars rate the president on his first year in office.
After the first 100 days of the Obama administration, the Institute for Policy Studies introduced our Change Index to evaluate the policies and performance of the new president. Did the candidate who promised change deliver on his promises?
Back in April, we gave the administration a score of 7 out of 10. "In other words, President Obama has certainly raised the level of U.S. foreign and domestic policy," we wrote in our report "Thirsting for Change." "But honestly it wouldn't have taken much to improve on the legacy left by the previous administration. We're still a long way off from reaching the top and earning a wholehearted 'cheers' from our Change Index contributors."
Nine months later, the president has had more time to act on his agenda. And the result has been mixed. He has spent a lot of time and energy to get a health care plan to Congress, but the final product is flawed in many ways. The stock market has regained much of its lost value, but the unemployment rate remains a staggering 10 percent and average Americans are still hurting. The president received his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, but was simultaneously increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and ordering air strikes in Pakistan. After his first year in office, Obama emerged as the "have it both ways" president: hawk and dove, populist and pragmatist, principled and political.
Obama's balancing act is reflected in his approval rating, which crested at 65 percent in March and dropped to 50 percent by December. Like the public at large, we're looking at the glass of water that is the Obama administration and trying to decide whether it's half full or half empty. It's certainly half full when compared to what might have been if John McCain had won and continued, uninterrupted, the policies of his predecessor. The unemployment rate would likely be higher, health care reform further from implementation, and America involved in yet another major war in Iran or North Korea. But the glass is half empty when compared to what Obama the candidate promised and what other presidents, like Lyndon Johnson or even Jimmy Carter, accomplished in their first year, at least on the domestic front.
After the first year in office, Obama fell short of what he outlined as a candidate and what we had hoped for during the campaign. As a result, we lowered our mark from 7 to 6.5. In our Change Index, the middle figure of 5 represents no change from the Bush administration. So, there has been change, but it's been modest. The new team squeaked by with a C- and a note in the margin: needs improvement.