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Literature Review: Social Impact of Obama’s Presidency


The election of Barack Obama as the first African-American President of the United States was a historical event. Many critics concluded that the USA had entered a new post-racial race since. Social scientists adopted the term the “Obama effect” to describe the benefits associated with Obama as the first black president. However, these effects have been challenged on various grounds, and indeed, while his election represented a change in the racial dynamics in the USA, upon his exit from the office, Americans remained concerned about the racial differences in the county. Moreover, despite Obama’s ambition to influence leadership positively, during his presidency many Americans lost faith in the role of the government. During his administration, more Americans identified as liberals and embraced certain things such as gay marriages that were previously shunned. The social impact of Obama goes beyond what his election as the first African-American president symbolized to encompasses what he was able to deliver in his campaign message of change and hope.

Barack Obama campaigned for the US presidency based on change. He was not voted on the grounds of experience or for his role as a leader of a party or a particular movement. He did not become the president merely by accident because his predecessor passed away. Obama was elected on the platform of change. Unlike most presidents, Obama was elected for himself, his message and for what he symbolized for the people of America (Jost, West, & Gosling, 2009). Indeed, the message and the messenger were inseparable as Obama offered himself as an exhibit in his campaign for change and hope in the USA. Undeniably, he was a mirror that reflected the ideals of many people not only in the USA but across the globe. A longitudinal study involving 734 college students investigated factors such as the respondent’s personality characteristics and ideologies in predicting perceptions on significant candidates such as Barack Obama (Jost, West, & Gosling, 2009). Jost, West and Gosling (2009)concluded that to an extent personality affects political orientation depending on the candidate’s ideological perspectives.

For the majority of Americans, Obama’s presidency marked the launch of a new post-racial in the USA. A study that focused on the beneficial impact of Obama’s term in office as the first African-American president concluded that Obama’s election and subsequently the relatively successful presidency might act as a source of inspiration form many African-Americans (Rivera & Plant, 2016). The research concentrated on the cognition and behavioral effects of the “Obama effect” on Americans. The focus group was American citizens who are interviewed to quantify the social, political and economic factors that together encompassed the Obama effect. Rivera and Plant (2016) researched on the boundary contexts of the Obama effect on stereotyping, prejudice and the associated benefits to the social cognition of the African-American population in the USA. It is deductible structural based interventions are effective in reducing stigma and associated negative consequences (Bernstein, Young, & Claypool, 2010). The conclusion implies the Obama’s presidency was at a degree able to deliver what it initially symbolized through motivating African-Americans to aspire to grown beyond racial prejudice.

Another research focused on the impact of Obama’s presidency on African-American population concluded that after exposure to negative black exemplars, Obama’s administration led to the reduction in the implicit anti-black bias and racial stereotyping (Columb & Plant, 2016). Unlike the previous research that focused on the impact of Obama’s presidency on African Americans perceptions, this particular research analyzed whether Obama’s administration had a positive impact on social issues that affected African-Americans. Such social problems include but are not limited to bias, racial stereotyping and counter-stereotypic (Columb & Plant, 2011). The study focuses on whether perceptions of Obama’s legacy are grounded on emotions or attitudes towards his stereotypicality. Through assessing whether stereotypic exemplary black men such as Kobe Bryant had a similar influence as Obama, the study found that exposure to positive black exemplars reduces racial stereotyping (Columb & Plant, 2016). However, the study failed to conclude whether exposure to Obama and his stereotypicality influenced individuals’ subliminal opinions.

Despite the idea that Obama’s election and reelection for the second term in office signaled that the American society had overcome its history of racial discrimination, American’s view on race relations, in fact, become less harmonious during Obama’s presidency. In 2010 a mere ten percent of Americans voiced their concern on race relations, a half a decade later in 2016 more than thirty percent of Americans expressed their fears on race relations (Drehle, 2016). The concern was grounded on several high profile cases that involved police officers shooting unarmed black men or other instances where black gang groups tracked white policemen. Over time, Americans held the perception that Obama’s elections made race relations worse rather than better. Indeed, in 2016 many Americans especially African-Americans described race relations as generally bad (Columb & Plant, 2016). In his farewell address, Obama admitted while it was implied that his election would usher a new post-racial era in the USA, it was not the case. It is therefore deductible that his presidency did not work to reduce racial issues in the country but rather illuminated the previously hidden fault lines that continue to prevail in Americans race relations.

In his farewell speech, Obama hinted that the widespread disillusionment with the political system often works to weaken the bonds of a nation. Public opinion in government performance is an essential factor in a society grounded on democracy such as the USA (Dimock, 2017). Therefore, widespread disillusionment often affects the functionality of the community and subsequently social activities and interactions. It is unfortunate during Obama’s eight years of presidency many Americans lost confidence in all aspects of the government including the political leaders and the long-standing institutions of the government. Indeed, several measures of quantifying public confidence in the government recorded relatively low numbers throughout Obama’s presidency. For instance, American’s trust in the political leaders was recorded at 42 percent during the final year of Obama’s presidency a figure that was at 49 percent in 2009 (Drehle, 2016).

Similarly, public confidence in the Supreme Court was reported at a mere 30 percent while that for the Congress was at seven percent. Additionally, despite the enthusiasm that Americans showcased during Obama’s election when he became the first Democrat in more than three decades to win more than half of the popular vote, his approval rate was relatively low (Rivera & Plant, 2016). It is essential to acknowledge that Obama voiced his regret in failing to make progress in reducing the discord that defines American’s political system and subsequently social functionality. It suffices to say he recognized the problem but was unable to provide an immediate solution. The lack of public confidence in the USA political system is one of the reasons for Trump’s victory despite no prior political or military experience as the 45th president of the USA since his campaign criticized various government institutions.

One of the core victories associated with Obama’s presidency is his influence on what Americans consider liberal. The number of Americans that considered themselves “liberal” or “very liberal” rose dramatically throughout Obama’s presidency (Pyszczynski, Henthorn, Motyl, & Gerow, 2010). Research indicates in 2009, merely a quarter of Americans considered themselves as socially liberal. However, in 2015, almost a third of Americans considered themselves socially liberal (Rinke, Willnat, & Quandt, 2015). A case in point is the broad acceptance of legal gay marriage. In 2009, forty percent of Americans thought that gay marriages should be legally recognized. By 2016, when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriages, more than 60 percent of Americans believed that gay marriages should be legalized (Dimock, 2017). Another relevant example is the issue of legalization of marijuana. During Obama’s presidency, eight states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana for recreational purposes a legal shift that was accompanied by supportive public opinion (Drehle, 2016). Indeed, for the first time in history, most Americans supported legalization of marijuana.

Additionally, Americans’ opinions on several social issues that were once considered controversial and morally unacceptable changed. Americans become tolerant of issues such as divorce, gay and lesbians relations, having children out of wedlock among others. A case in point is the USA religious identity. Obama’s presidency was characterized by a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who do not claim any religion at all (Pyszczynski, Henthorn, Motyl, & Gerow, 2010). There has been a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who consider themselves atheists or agnostics. Research indicates that atheists now make a quarter of the USA adult population from 16 percent in 2007 (Dimock, 2017). Indeed, whether it is directly linked to his presidency or not the Obama era as the president of the USA saw an increase in social liberalism across several moral and value-associated issues.

Technologies changes that have accompanied Obama’s presidency have been swift. The past decade has been characterized by significant technology revolutions which have increased connectivity through social media use and mobile adoption. Research indicates by 2016 more than three-quarters of Americans owned and actively used smartphones (Dimock, 2017). Indeed, social media to no small extent shaped Obama’s presidency considering it was a signature aspect in Obama’s 2008 campaign (Hong & Nadler, 2012). Obama assisted in ushering the digital age of the 21st century through sharing his weekly address through the White House YouTube channel. Undeniably, while American’s remained wary of news media during Obama’s presidency, many valued the watchdog function of the press and social media.

At a global capacity, Obama’s presidency increased confidence in the ability of the USA to make the right decisions in international affairs. Research indicates that Obama’s election improved America’s image abroad especially in the European countries which had openly criticized George W. Bush decision to invade Iraq (Dimock, 2017). Two surveys focusing on German college students before and after 2008 US president elections indicate attitudes towards the USA foreign policies improved after Obama’s election (Rinke, Willnat, & Quandt, 2015). While Obama remained popular at a global capacity except for a few cases such as Russia and vital Muslim countries, many Americans grew weary of international affairs during his presidency.


There have been several social shifts at both a national and international level associated with Obama’s presidency as the 44th president of the USA. The technological changes that were the hallmark of social interactions during Obama’s administration are likely to continue to shape the lives of Americans. Despite boosting African-Americans’ confidence in their ability to overcome racial diversity, racial relations during Obama’s presidency worsened. Notably, Obama’s administration was characterized by a dramatic increase in the number of Americans that identified as socially liberal.


Bernstein, M. J., Young, S. G., & Claypool, H. M. (2010). Is Obama’s win a gain for blacks. Social Psychology, 147-151.

Columb, C., & Plant, A. (2011). Revisiting the Obama effect: Exposure to Obama reduces implicit prejudice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(2), 499-501.

Columb, C., & Plant, A. (2016). The Obama effect six years later: The effect of exposure to Obama on implicit anti-black evaluative bias and implicit racial stereotyping. Social Cognition.

Dimock, M. (2017, January 10). How America changed during Barack Obama’s presidency. Retrieved April 15, 2019, from Pew Research Center:

Drehle, D. V. (2016, December 22). Honor and effect: What President Obama achieved in eight years. Retrieved April 22, 2019, from Time:

Hong, S., & Nadler, D. (2012). Which candidates do the public discuss online in an election campaign? : The use of social media by 2012 presidential candidates and its impact on candidate salience. Government Information Quartley, 29, 455-461.

Jost, J. T., West, T. V., & Gosling, S. D. (2009). Personality and ideology as determinants of candidate preferences and “Obama conversion” in the 2008 US presidential election. Du Bois Institute of African and African American Research, 103-124.

Pyszczynski, T., Henthorn, C., Motyl, M., & Gerow, K. (2010). Is Obama the anti-christ? Racial priming, extreme criticisms of Brack Obama, and attitudes towards the 2008 US presidential candidates. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(5), 863-866.

Rinke, E. M., Willnat, L., & Quandt, T. (2015). The Obama factor: Change and stability in cultural and political anti-Americanism. International Journal of Communication, 2954-2979.

Rivera, L. M., & Plant, A. E. (2016). The psychological legacy of Barack Obama: The impact of the first African-American president of the United States on individuals’ social cognition. Social Cognition, 34, 495-503.


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