Although President Obama was unable to shepherd a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act through the U.S. Congress during his first term, he did encourage states to enact education reforms through the Race to the Top competition and provide additional flexibility under NCLB through waivers. However, even though Obama also made investments in education one of the key prongs of his economic plan, the percentage of Americans who believe he can improve education during his second term dropped slightly—from 71 percent in 2008 to 68 percent in 2012—according to a post-election poll by USA Today and Gallup.
Even with the drop, improving education still ranked third in a list of thirteen different goals for the Obama administration for which Americans were most optimistic, finishing just behind bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan (72 percent) and improving conditions for minorities and the poor (72 percent). Americans were pessimistic that Obama could substantially reduce the federal budget deficit (39 percent), avoid raising taxes (38 percent), control illegal immigration (36 percent), and “heal” the nation’s political divisions (33 percent).
The percentage believing that Obama could heal political divisions experienced a 21 percentage-point drop compared to a similar poll taken four years earlier. In the earlier poll, 71 percent of Americans believed Obama would improve education.
“Americans were generally more positive about the potential of the new Obama administration’s ability to accomplish most of these goals in November 2008, just after Obama was elected for the first time,” the poll notes. “This optimism no doubt reflects in part voters’ hopes for any new president and the poor economic conditions that were extant in 2008.”
Differences in voter opinion identified by the 2008 and 2012 polls are reflected in the table to the right.
“Now that President Obama has four years behind him, and with significant problems still facing the country, it is perhaps natural that Americans temper their optimism about his ability to achieve certain goals in his second term,” the poll notes. “This also may reflect the reality that economic conditions—as perceived by the public—are not as direly negative as they were in 2008, leaving the administration less room for improvement.”
When asked what Obama’s top priorities should be in his second term, 95 percent of Americans said it was “extremely” or “very” important that Obama take “major steps” to restore a strong economy and job market. Americans also believe that Obama should work to ensure the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicare (88 percent) and prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon (79 percent). The one education-related option from the list of twelve priorities—make college education affordable—ranked in a tie for fourth, with 73 percent of Americans saying it should be a priority.
More information on the poll is available at