Obama Less Popular Than Bush?!

According to a new Gallup poll, President Obama is not only less popular than George W. Bush, but the only president from the last half century less popular is Dick Nixon.

According to a new Gallup poll, President Obama is not only less popular than George W. Bush, but the only president from the last half century less popular is Dick Nixon.

Obama’s not actually on the list, but Jim Geraghty notes that his current approval is at 45 percent.  That’s actually the average for the past seven days; his current day total is 48 percent.

Regardless, while amusing, comparing the approval of sitting presidents with that of past presidents is rather silly.  Aside from Nixon, whose public ratings are actually much lower than those by professional historians, past presidents are recalled not just from their tenure in office but post-office activities, recent books and movies, and all manner of ephemera not connected to their performance.

This chart, also from Gallup, shows what I mean:

John Kennedy has become radically more popular in death than he ever was as president.  But he’s a special case:  a handsome, charismatic fellow who was martyred in office.

On the flip side, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were both essentially forced from office.  Johnson was crippled by Vietnam and chose not to run for a second term rather than be crushed in the primaries.  Nixon, of course, had Watergate and resigned rather than face the humiliation of impeachment and removal.

Ronald Reagan was well liked, if polarizing.  He took a brief hit after the Iran-Contra scandal but had rebounded nicely by the time he left office.  But he’s been virtually sanctified since, as not only the mythological hero of Republicans but the kind of GOP leaders Democrats pine for.

Bill Clinton hasn’t been out of office long enough for all the angst over the Lewinski scandal and other unpleasantness to go way.  Still, his post-office philanthropy has him as popular as ever.

George H.W. Bush has also benefited from philanthropy.  My guess is his numbers would be higher if he didn’t share three of four names with his less popular son.

Jimmy Carter was arguably the worst president of my lifetime.  But he became “our greatest living ex-president” through the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity.  His image has been somewhat tarnished in recent years by anti-Israel sentiments and getting mired in the strum aund drang of the second Bush presidency, taking him out of the elder statesman role a bit.  Still, a majority look upon him favorably.

George W. Bush left office in tatters, having virtually no supporters left aside from the bitter enders.  But he’s still got the charms that got him twice elected to the White House.  So, he’s already rebounded into respectability and should be into the 50s soon.

Barack Obama, by contrast, is still governing on a daily basis.  And the economy is a giant mess.   So much so that he could be the rare president denied a second term.  Republicans despite him and, increasingly, Democrats are disgusted with his weakness. But despite that, he’s hovering just below 50 percent approval.

Absent scandal — and he doesn’t seem the type — he’s likely to quickly climb the charts of living ex-presidents.  He’ll be young enough to do good works and he remains charismatic enough to win people over.

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FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    “That’s actually the average for the past seven days; his current day total is 48 percent.”

    The latest weekly average available has Obama at 46%.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/124922/Presidential-Approval-Center.aspx

    Let’s be kind and say Jim Geraghty “accidentally” used the wrong numbers…

  2. rodney dill says:

    Hmmm… sounds like a river in Egypt

  3. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: It was still showing 45 when I accessed the page. (It’s how I noticed that 48 was today’s number.) My guess is that today’s figures changed the total and was just added.

  4. ponce says:

    Gallup had Obama’s approval at 47% yesterday.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @ponce

    Truly weird: When I wrote the post, it had Obama at 48 percent today and 45 percent for the week. Now, it has him at 47 percent today and 46 percent for the week. That doesn’t make sense!

    Regardless, my substantive argument stands: Comparing the job approval of a sitting president with that of out-of-office presidents is silly.

  6. ponce says:

    I agree. I think it’s nice that Americans think better of their former presidents.

    A recognition of the difficulty of the job?

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Chuckling over these bizarre polls aside, President Obama has a ways to go before he’s in Nixon, Carter, or George W. Bush territory. His trend isn’t particularly good and, as Mark Halperin pointed out in Time, the president is going to need to some luck if he’s to be re-elected.

    However, luck may be on the way in the form of over-reaching Congressional Republicans and Republican primary voters. The poll that will be most important to President Obama will be the one taken on the first Tuesday of November, 2012.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    A recognition of the difficulty of the job?

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

  9. ponce says:

    “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

    There is some of that, but I think if 9/11 hadn’t happened, George W. would have been a perfectly decent middle of the road president and I’m glad to see his post presidency numbers improving.

    Ditto for Jimmy Carter.

  10. tom p says:

    “His image has been somewhat tarnished in recent years by anti-Israel sentiments ”

    I think you mean “his (JC) image has been BURNISHED” by anti-Israel sentiments.

    Look, we all respect a man who stands AGAINST the political powers of the day, and JC may be tilting at windmills, but we all respect him a little bit more for it.

  11. WhiteSnow says:

    Well, after Obama’s speech tonight, I don’t think Obama is going up in the polls for the next 2 years. Democrats are even upset with him.

    Need to read a new book out that’s a thriller & I’ll be sending it out to people for the holidays. It’s all I can afford & it’s a great read.

    http://www.booksbyoliver.com

    Obama threw the federal employees under the bus with a salary freeze & now he’s thrown his own base support under the bus. He’s in real trouble. Good article.

  12. rodney dill says:

    He’s the gift that keeps on giving. I’d say we elected Dan Quayle, but I didn’t vote for him.

  13. TG Chicago says:

    “There is some of that, but I think if 9/11 hadn’t happened, George W. would have been a perfectly decent middle of the road president and I’m glad to see his post presidency numbers improving.”

    You may be right, but 9/11 gave him the illegitimate excuse to go into Iraq, and he deserves continuing scorn for the lives he wasted with that tragic mistake.

  14. Jerry Van Herrin says:

    Just how was Kenndy a martyr? Does somebody know something we don’t?