The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

President Obama promised to end our partisan divide. It hasn’t worked.

President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change at Georgetown University in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Seven years after Barack Obama promised to break down the barriers of partisanship that have defined the past two decades of American politics, there's ample evidence to suggest that the experiment has failed and the electorate in 2016 will be as polarized and partisan as any in recent memory.

Two questions in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Wednesday morning reveal the depths of our partisan disagreements -- and, more importantly, how those disagreeements virtually guarantee gridlock and paralysis.  The first asked people who they trusted more to deal effectively with the main problems facing the country today.

The second asked the same question but narrowed in on the handling of the economy.

The obvious takeaway is that both sides are roughly equally trusted (and not trusted) to handle both the big problems facing the country in general and the economy in particular. Dig into the partisan breakdowns behind each of the questions and things get depressing quick.

On the general question of whether President Obama or Republicans in Congress were better equipped to handle America's problems, the numbers broke down this way:

Democrats: 78 percent Obama more trusted/10 percent GOP in Congress more trusted

Republicans: 3 percent Obama/89 percent GOP in Congress

Independents: 39 percent Obama/36 percent GOP in Congress

And, on the economy:

Democrats: 76 percent Obama/12 percent GOP in Congress

Republicans: 4 percent Obama/91 percent GOP in Congress

Independents: 42 percent Obama/41 percent GOP in Congress

Democrats, broadly, prefer Obama to the alternative. Republicans, almost unanimously, trust their side as compared to the president. And independents, well, they just don't know what to think or who to trust.

Anyone surprised by these numbers hasn't been paying much attention to politics over the past few years. But, what they affirm is that polarization, the tendency to see every issues no matter how big or small through a partisan lens, has not receded since the 2014 election.  Just like it didn't recede in the wake of the 2012 election. Or the 2010 election. Or, if we're being honest with ourselves, after the 2008 election.

[How to fix our political partisanship, in 1 easy step]

Before you say -- and you will say -- that it's not entirely Obama's fault, let me say this: You are absolutely right.  Republicans in Congress saw that simply standing in opposition to Obama's policies paid political dividends -- so they kept doing it. And, again if we're being honest with ourselves, the American public's growing tendency to live around, work with, listen to and watch people who generally agree with us all the time on everything had a role to play in this too.

But remember that Obama specifically cast himself as someone who could solve unsolvable problems, someone whose entire life was premised on the idea of bridging gaps people said couldn't be bridged.  Recall these lines from Obama's 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention:

For 18 long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said, "Enough," to the politics of the past. You understand that, in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same, old politics with the same, old players and expect a different result.
You have shown what history teaches us, that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.

But, polarization in the country and partisanship in Washington appears to have been a bridge too far for even Obama.

And what that means going into 2016 is that you will have an electorate primed not for kumbaya talk about how we all can and should get along (ala 2008) but rather one deeply divided over virtually every issue and wanting to hear talk about how their side is right and the other side is wrong from their candidates. It's going to be ugly.