The Washington Post

Obama’s image takes a backseat to his results

President Obama entered office as an ideal in the minds of many Americans.

During the Democratic primaries in 2008, people's views of him were heavily reliant on his personal style and beliefs.

The words people used to describe him were words like "young," "black," "charisma," and "interesting." On the flip side, attempts to define him as an empty vessel — or something nefarious — also registered with many voters who labeled Obama "inexperienced," "Muslim" and "foreigner."

Today, none of these words are used much to define Obama. Views of the president are based much less on his image and much more on his political results.

According to a new Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll, some of the top words used to describe Obama are "trying," "failed," "incompetent" and "disappointing."

Just four out of 1,008 respondents identified the president as "black," a single person called him a "Muslim," and the president — who at last check has aged only four years since he was first elected — is no longer seen as "young."

At the same time, some of Obama's personal traits have remained remarkably steady over time. The one-word poll has been conducted by The Post five times since 2007, when Obama was first running for president, and in basically every poll, "intelligent," "charisma" and "likeable" have been among the top words used to describe him.

Meanwhile, negative views of Obama have trended more severe. While one of the top words used to be "liberal," it's now "socialist." While people used to say he was "inexperienced," they now also question his faculties and character, calling him a "liar" and "incompetent."

None of this is terribly surprising; a president is judged very much on his record, of which Obama had very little when he was first elected. And views of a politician will polarize as time goes on.

But the transition between the old image of Obama and the new reality of Obama in four years' time is certainly one that will have an effect on the 2012 race.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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