By Sheldon Alberts - 07/09/12 09:00 AM EDT
Two-thirds of likely voters say President Obama has kept his 2008 campaign promise to change America — but it’s changed for the worse, according to a sizable majority.
A new poll for The Hill found 56 percent of likely voters believe Obama’s first term has transformed the nation in a negative way, compared to 35 percent who believe the country has changed for the better under his leadership.
Conducted for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research, the poll comes in the wake of last month’s Supreme Court decision that upheld the primary elements of Obama’s signature healthcare legislation.
It found 68 percent of likely voters — regardless of whether they approve or disapprove of Obama — believe the president has substantially transformed the country since his 2009 inauguration.
The feeling that Obama has changed the country for the worse is strongest among Republicans, at 91 percent, compared to 71 percent of Democrats who support Obama’s brand of change.
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Strikingly, 1-in-5 Democrats say they feel Obama has changed the United States for the worse.
Compared to the sentiment about Obama’s impact, fewer people see presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a candidate who will change the country dramatically if elected.
Still, 50 percent of people think Romney will bring a “significant” level of change — a finding that may reflect the desire among anti-Obama voters for a reversal of the president’s policies.
Debate about Obama’s first-term legacy has intensified since the Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate to be constitutional.
The healthcare legislation, once fully implemented, would usher in the most sweeping changes to the nation’s social safety net since the 1960s.
To Obama’s supporters, the ruling was a validation of his 2008 campaign theme of “change we can believe in.” At that time, Obama hinted at his ambitions to become a transformative president in the mold of Ronald Reagan.
“I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill ClintonBill ClintonTrump's new debate challenge: Silence Clinton aide defends inviting Mark Cuban to debate Clinton campaign: Trump shouldn't be graded on a 'curve' at first debate MORE did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal in January 2008.
Beyond the healthcare law, Obama won passage of the Dodd-Frank financial industry reforms, generally viewed as the biggest Wall Street regulatory changes since the 1930s.
In the absence of major immigration legislation, Obama recently eased deportation rules for young illegal immigrants brought to the country as children.
Obama’s ambitions for big change fell short in other areas. He has been unable to pass climate change legislation or repeal the Bush-era tax rates.
On social issues, Obama recently became the first president to endorse gay marriage.
Independent of voter opinions about how the country has changed, The Hill Poll found an overwhelming majority of voters — 89 percent — view the choice between Obama and Romney as important in terms of the future impact on the country.
Almost half (47 percent) say they are paying more attention to this year’s election than the 2008 vote. Republicans are generally paying more attention than Democrats — 56 percent to 44 percent — to the 2012 campaign compared to 2008.
Among centrists, views are evenly split on how Obama has changed the country — with 40 percent saying the United States is better today and 42 percent saying it is worse off. Eighty percent of liberals think Obama has changed the country for the better.
There is a marked difference of opinion along racial lines, with just 29 percent of whites saying Obama has changed the country for the better compared to 92 percent of blacks.
The poll was conducted among 1,000 likely voters on July 5 and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.