George W. Bush Rebounds In The Polls, Still Below Other Ex-Presidents

A George W. Bush renaissance? Not exactly.

Bush Miss Me Yet

According to a new Gallup poll, former President George W. Bush is enjoying some of the highest favorability numbers he has seen in many years:

PRINCETON, NJ — Americans’ views of former president George W. Bush have improved, with 49% now viewing him favorably and 46% unfavorably. That is the first time since 2005 that opinions of him have been more positive than negative.

Bush has maintained a fairly low profile in the four years since he left office. However, he returned to the public eye this year with the April opening of his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Bush left office with 40% viewing him favorably and 59% unfavorably in January 2009. That worsened to 35% favorable and 63% unfavorable in March 2009, but his favorable rating recovered to the mid-40% range by 2010.

The June 1-4 poll shows further improvement in Americans’ ratings of Bush, which had not been more positive than negative since April 2005. Prior to then, Americans had always viewed Bush more favorably than unfavorably, including an 87% favorable rating in November 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That is one percentage point below the all-time high Gallup has measured for any public figure, shared by Colin Powell (2002) and Tiger Woods (2000).

Bush’s lowest favorable rating was 32% in April 2008, as the economy was in recession and gas prices were headed toward record highs in the U.S. Also at the time, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were engaged in a spirited campaign to become the Democratic nominee who would run for president to succeed Bush.

As this chart shows, it’s taken some time out of office for the public to begin to reconsider their opinion of Bush:

Bush Gallup 1

 

Additionally, Bush still has lower favorable numbers than any other recent former President:

Bush Gallup 2Unlike people on either the left or the right, I would not take this recent up-tick in Bush’s favorable numbers to be some kind of indication that the American public has begun reconsidering its evaluation of the eight years of the Bush Presidency. Instead, it’s a reflection of something that’s been true of former Presidents since the beginning of the modern political era. After the passage of time, the public seems to separate their opinion of these men, and so far they’ve all been men, from their opinions about the policies that were enacted while they were in office. From the time of Harry Truman, who left office in 1953 with very low approval numbers, there has come a time for every ex-President when the public shift away from a political evaluation of the former President to a more personal one, this becomes even more true if it’s a former President who maintains a presence in the public eye and becomes associated with charitable causes, something we’ve seen from former Presidents Carter, Bush 41, and Clinton most notably. Truman’s numbers eventually started to turn around, as did former President Hoover’s, who remained mostly out of the public eye until his death in 1964. Even Richard Nixon enjoyed something of a renaissance in the final years of his life as he started to contribute columns and other writings on the subject of foreign policy, something which he’d been associated with since the 1950s. Indeed, when Nixon died, we learned that he and President Clinton had spoken personally many times while Clinton was in office. Given all of that that, it’s not too surprising to see Bush’s numbers starting to turn around. It’s worth noting that this uptick comes just about two months after there was some fairly positive coverage of Bush all over the media on the occasion of the opening of his Presidential Library and Museum. Obviously, he has reaped some benefit from all of that nostalgia.

What this doesn’t mean, I would suggest, is that Americans are reevaluating their opinion of Bush era policies. Polls continue to show that the public places more blame for the state of the economy on President Bush than they do on President Obama. The war in Iraq remains highly unpopular even a year and a half after the last American soldier crossed into Kuwait. And, most importantly, the election results last November, would seem to suggest that the public still isn’t willing to trust the GOP with control of the White House. In the end, all these poll respondents seem to be saying is that George W. Bush seems like a pretty nice guy and they’re glad he’s enjoying his retirement. I can agree with that, and say emphatically that I’m glad he’ll never be President again.

 

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Liberal Capitalist says:

    What… suddenly, he sucks less?

    Becomes respected as a folk artist?

    Goes on a global tour of humanitarianism? (I kid, I kid…)

    No.

    “Dead Cat Bounce”

    http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/deadcatbounce.asp

  2. James Joyner says:

    Jimmy Carter carried 6 states in his re-election bid; he’s now at 69 percent. Bush will rise considerably higher.

    I also wonder about George HW Bush’s comparatively low numbers. How many are confusing him with his son?

  3. PJ says:

    I’m just going to note that the difference between his favorable and unfavorable numbers are within the error of margin, and that the changes during the last three Gallup polls may very well be due to who were in the sample. His unfavorables have dropped since the last Gallup poll in 2009 though.

  4. PJ says:

    @PJ:

    I’m just going to note that the difference between his favorable and unfavorable numbers are within the error of margin, and that the changes during the last three Gallup polls may very well be due to who were in the sample. His unfavorables have dropped since the last Gallup poll in 2009 though.

    Fixed.

  5. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Check out both Carter’s and Clinton’s unfavorables – the 27% strikes again!

    In all seriousness, I can’t see GW Bush surpassing Clinton/Carter unless he invests his time heavily into something like Habitat for Humanity. I have had multiple hardline GOP folks tell me over the years that they thought he was both our worst living President and our best living ex-President, and they always mention Habitat.

  6. Jay Dubbs says:

    So we shouldn’t be gearing up for a “W in 16” campaign?

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As this chart shows, it’s taken some time out of office for the public to begin to reconsider their opinion of Bush:

    As long as he keeps his mouth shut….

  8. Kylopod says:

    Part of what I think Bush has going for him is that he basically doesn’t talk politics anymore. He doesn’t attack Obama, and he doesn’t much discuss policy either. I doubt he’ll ever pursue humanitarian causes like Carter, nor will he develop a statesman-like reputation like Clinton, but in most of his interviews since leaving office he hasn’t said anything divisive and the focus has been on his amiable personality (which always helped his public image). I’d be curious to see the trajectory of Cheney’s numbers in contrast.

  9. Caj says:

    Of course he does. He’s not there anymore to get us in another war that we have no business being involved in. Apart from that he has done well to stay out of the limelight since leaving office unlike Darth Vader Cheney who can’t keep his nose out. Like he even has any credibility to start with! George Bush I always thought was a nice man outside the presidency. Just surrounded by raving lunatics who never saw a war they didn’t like!

  10. john425 says:

    Note that the survey compared Bush to EX-Presidents. History will be kinder to him than the “Lightbringer What’s-His-Name”.

  11. Peacewood says:

    I suspect Bush pere‘s numbers aren’t higher because he doesn’t really have a signature accomplishment to hang onto — Reagan had the end of the Cold War, Carter has Habitat, Clinton has the Clinton Initiative and the economic boom, and elder Bush has…the Gulf War — an accomplishment which was rather quickly blunted by his son.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    At this point people are judging W on his post-presidency. He’s been invisible. People like that.

  13. bill says:

    history will be kind to him, he did what we told him to do after 9/11- and both houses voted for it overwhelmingly.

  14. anjin-san says:

    he did what we told him to do after 9/11

    Really? We told him to kill 100,00 people and spend six trillion dollars to turn Iraq into a pro-Iran state?

    I must have missed that somehow…

  15. bill says:

    @anjin-san: by our support of everything after that, yes we did. even those that ‘were for the war before they were against it’, you remember them?!