You’re No JFK: George W. Bush Is the Least Popular Living Former President

Gallup has released their 2010 poll of the most popular presidents of the last 50 years. While the two names at the top, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, should surprise no one, George W. Bush made his first appearance on the list, and promptly established himself as the least popular living former president.

After deceased presidents Kennedy (85% approval) and Reagan (74% approval), Bill Clinton is the most popular living former president. Clinton is third on the list with a 69% approval rating. He is followed by the man who he defeated for the presidency in the 1992 election, George H.W. Bush (64% approval), and Gerald Ford (61% approval). Jimmy Carter now sits at 52%. Lyndon Johnson is at 49%, which places him ahead of fellow Texan George W. Bush (47%), and as usual Richard Nixon is last at 29%.

The Gallup poll on former president approval is taken once every four years. The big gainers on the list were Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon Johnson who each gained eight points. Bush has seen his image change through his fund raising efforts with Clinton after the 2005 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti. Former President Clinton has enjoyed a revival in popularity that can not only be tied to his charity work, but also the popularity of his wife Sec. of State Hillary Clinton.

Jimmy Carter took the biggest drop of all the former presidents. Carter has lost nine points of approval since the last survey, and this can mostly be attributed to Carter outspokenness on issues such as Israel and the Middle East. Carter’s name has also been vilified by the right due to his willingness to challenge them. Carter is the most publicly politically active former president, so it isn’t big shock that his post presidency approval rating would take a hit.

Despite the release of his new book, and what has amounted to a year plus long publicity campaign to repair his image, George W. Bush remains unpopular with the American people. The memories of the previous eight years have not been erased in the past two. The one thing that Carter, Johnson, and George W. Bush all have in common is that their presidencies were immediately judged as failures. It is the immediate perception, more than anything else that often seals the impression of a former president’s time in office.

At the top and the bottom of the list are the exceptions. Kennedy’s assassination and Nixon’s Watergate scandal influenced each former president’s popularity or lack thereof. History and memories tend to be kind to former presidents over time, but the stench of failure is not going to be removed from George W. Bush anytime soon. Just as images of LBJ are often shown alongside images of protests, racial unrest, and Vietnam, Bush will forever be shown with the war in Iraq, the collapsed economy, and most powerfully the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

If George W. Bush is doomed to lug a legacy of failure along with him wherever he goes, Bill Clinton is the one living former president who could continue to see his popularity grow. It is very possible that Clinton will surpass Ronald Reagan and become the second most popular former president on the list. The outstanding job that Hillary Clinton has done with her own career has remade the family name and turned the Lewinsky scandal more into a memory of Republican excess than a cause for presidential damnation.

George W. Bush’s presidency will never be remembered as fondly as Bill Clinton’s is today. In fact, W. will be lucky if he ever reaches the lofty heights of Gerald Ford. George W. Bush went from unprecedented popularity after to 9/11 to presiding over one of the most spectacular declines in presidential history. Within this poll is a lesson for Obama. Presidents are never remembered for where they start. Almost all of the people on this list were popular when they first entered office. It is how popular a president is when he leaves office that defines his legacy. There is still plenty of time for Obama. Even in the worst case scenario, he will likely fare better than George W. Bush.

23 Replies to “You’re No JFK: George W. Bush Is the Least Popular Living Former President”

  1. Kennedy and Reagan both did 2 stand up things. Both of them stood up to Russia, looked them in the eye and said get screwed. And both times Russia backed down. I cannot say a lot about Kennedy’s term as I was only in eighth grade when he was shot. But I can say other than getting the wall torn down in Berlin, Reagan’s economy was an abject failure. Clinton stands head and shoulders above Reagan in my opinion. And like Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush he is out doing things in the world. Jimmy Carter might get a lot of bad press from the Conservatives, but he speaks the truth and he stands up to things that the Conservatives run from.

    As for George Bush being the last on the list, as far as I’m concerned that he should be removed from the list. As far as I’m concerned when you mentioned Bush you must mention Cheney who co-chaired the presidency. what the two of them did set America back years and years. Throw away a surplus, dropped taxes and started 2 wars which immediately drained the coffers and put us where we are today. we have a financial problem home and we are spending billions on wars. wars that the Conservatives want to continue while we dropped more taxes.

    George W. Bush will never come up from bottom of the list of presidents. He is and will be remembered as the Benedict Arnold of our modern times.

  2. What a joke this site is. If Jimmy Carter is listed as 52% approval rating this site has lost ALL credibility.

  3. Hey you narrow minded and short memory Americans!

    You voted for Bush not once but twice, so suck it up and live with your decision!

    And you voted for Obama, so whatever the outcome might be, suck it up and live with it!

    Stop whining and crying like bitches, Americans!

  4. so in other words… carter’s approval rating has fallen 9% since 2006, and bush approval rating has jumped 13% since 2008. and those numbers are from MSNBC, so theyre already biased anyway. sounds like good news for george, as his approval rating is projected to continue to rise for the forseeable future. looks like history will remember him fondly after all :)

    with regards to peanut jimmy, he has to be the most braindead one-term president this country has ever had (at least until obama gets turfed out in 2012). his foreign policy caused the world’s current problems with iran, and the situation there is 100% his fault. i guess since 2006 people have started to see what a bumbling cretin he really was :s

  5. @phil

    Wow, reading comprehension is not your strength. Bush’s poll numbers have not risen in THIS POLL. The Gallup poll on former president approval rating is taken once every four years. The last poll was taken in 2006, when George W. Bush was president. See if you can follow me now, because this is where it gets tricky, W. could not be in the poll because he was still president. The poll only includes former presidents. This is really not that complicated.

  6. This site didn’t do the poll. Gallup did, which is something you would know if you actually read the story.

  7. Clinton stands (economically speaking) “head and shoulders above Reagan” because he was standing on Reagan’s shoulders.

    Reagan crushed the USSR through economic means. He outspend them – plain and simple. He poured money that we did not have into existing weapons systems and into research for new technologies. But, in doing so, he invested heavily not only in technology and medicine – he invested in our country’s economic future. And when you make that kind of investment, you get a return (as opposed to giving money to those who just take and waste it).

    All Clinton had to do was sit back and not screw it up. George H. had already weathered the brunt of the storm. And to give credit, in his first term, Clinton did very little that affected the budget – which was the best thing he could have done.

    Now, I have no great love for George W.
    Much of the way to the current shredding of our Constitution was paved by his administration. But, economically, his administration was a success – through 2006. In 2006, the US had the best economy since 1956 – in terms of per-capita income, unemployment, and adjusted GDP. Bush earned that. It was 6 years into his presidency – that he had inherited with the .com bubble burst, the tech sector failing, and GDP stagnant. The significant thing is that these indicators were falling – they had not bottomed. On top of which, our country suffered a crippling attack Q3/Q4 of 2001.

    Bush was able to push policy and legislation to stop the economic decline by 2002. And by 2003, we were again seeing positive, long term growth.

    In 2007, a Democrat majority was seated in both the House and the Senate – who immediately became very partisan blocking anything remotely Republican. And they vigorously began pushing the Democrat agenda.

    Forgive me if I see an immediate correlation.

  8. wow, no author of any article i’ve commented on has ever responded to me at all, much less with such a vitriolic personal attack. quite frankly, i’m not sure whether to be apalled or flattered.

    unfortunately, i must deduce based on your comment that it is in fact you who has the reading comprehension problem. allow me to explain. when bush left office, his approval rating was sitting at 34%. see if you can follow me now, because this is where it gets tricky, 47-34=13. i know, math is incredible isn’t it? therefore it becomes clear that bush’s approval rating has jumped 13% since 2008, just like i said. this is really not that complicated. dont trust simple addition? don’t worry, because your buddies over at MSNBC actually point this very fact out in one of their articles… imagine that! politics usa should really consider hiring writers that are smarter than a pile of hog shit. please respond, i do look forward to reading another of your entertaining posts.

  9. This seems kind of silly. We just had an enormous anti-Bush election barely two years ago. Of course, he’s going to still be unpopular! With time and history all things will work out for Mr. Bush. His first for years where ok but the last four he was missing at the wheel. The poor management of Iraq is what has caused so much of the hatred towards him. A lot of our boys are dead and that is a tough thing to forget, as it should be.

  10. Look more carefully at the economic figures for 2006.

    When factoring in typical growth, the per-capita income, unemployment and adjusted GDP numbers of George W’s administration are not all that different than Clinton’s numbers. Some numbers, such as Clinton’s unemployment figures are clearly superior. Further, when you factor out the influences that war had on the adjusted GDP in 2006, you may even have had a worse economy in my opinion. You can argue effectively either way when you look carefully at the numbers:

    What is not arguable, however, is that George W has brought us one step closer to tyranny and revolution.

    He has done this while everyone has slept, by eliminating Habeas Corpus and disregarding Posse Comitatus, by dramatically increasing the power of the Presidency and weakening the trinity of this country and by allowing even the perceived notion of torture of any kind to exist within our borders.

    The Founding Fathers are not just concerned, they are downright angry at us right now.

  11. I don’t think this was done while everyone slept. This is a huge complaint of Democrats since the day this all started. Dick Cheney is the one who wants to increase the power of the presidency in order to weaken the federal government and allow major corporations and financial entities to have far more of a say in the running of this country. If you have a weakened Congress you have a country that is open to manipulation

  12. actually present Reagan did absolutely nothing for our economy except to triple the deficits during his term. He spent billions on a defense strategy that turned out to be nothing.

  13. I’m not sure why you’re trying to compare two absolutely different polls. You’re not making sense. I’m also not sure why you keep bringing up MSNBC. You make a great many assumptions here that lead to no end. I gotta give you credit, try real hard but you’re not achieving anything

  14. so you are comparing President Bush’s rating two years after his left office to Obama’s current rating and thinking that it’s meaningful? You’re comparing an eight year term to two years in office? Shall we really go out on a limb and compare Obama’s lowest ratings to Bush’s lowest ratings?

  15. Ronald Reagan was nothing more than a poor man’s JFK. He either immitated, copied or down right stole everything JFK proposed during the 60’s. Tax cuts, investement in technology, cold war investment, the Berline wall. The only difference is that JFK did have a four trillion dollar debt when he left office and wouldn’t have had he live for two full terms. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ronald (6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), but his policies still ring through our economy today. When you put corporations and their profits before the PEOPLE, you no longer have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Instead it becomes a country of the Corporations, by the Corporation and for the Corporations. When you betray the people of a country like Reagan and W did with their spending and contant need for war, all you get is a country torn apart and divided. Where is Abraham Lincoln when you need him – “A house divided, cannot stand.” The republican conservative phylosopy has destroyed this country from the inside out and sent our jobs oversees. Let’s finish the job with the current group of nads – deregualte everything and watch the gready corporation who now have the same rights as an American Citizen, rape, piledge and steal the country away from it’s true self and that can be summed up in one word “FREEDOM.” It’s almost gone people, WAKE UP!

  16. With George W Bush to compare against, it’s no wonder that everyone else’s ratings are going up among still living past presidents.

  17. I don’t care what JJD is comparing, because it’s obvious what he is! The fact the Republicans stopped almost every single bill designed to get our economy going tells me something, that W really screwed things up and that the Repbulican’s weren’t going to let Obama be the next FDR. No stimulus, no healthcare, no, no, no. What if tip ONeal told Reagan no his $4 trillion tax cut. Reagan would have never been able to give us the illusion of prosperity and never won a second term. It’s no longer about what is good for the American people, it is what is good for the American Corporation.

  18. That’s the problem, Bush wasn’t actually elected President in 2000. Wasn’t it funny when Bush was posing with his Mom and Dad and was asked the question – exit polls show you are behind in Florida, do you have any comment? Bush responded saying he wasn’t concerned and that his brohter was working on that. He sure did – Bush will always be considered the President that tore America in half. Not just apart, but in half. When a group of 12 unelected/appointed justices pick the President after millions voted, you no longer have a democratic republic, by an oligharcic fascist state.

  19. sigh. one poll shows bush’s approval rating at the end of his term. the other shows his approval rating now. his approval rating now is 13% higher than his approval rating when he left office. therefore, his approval rating has jumped 13% since he left office (this is the third time i’m saying it). i mention MSNBC simply because they have noticed and stated this fact in the article i linked. if you find that you are unable to wrap your head around this simple reality, i think your iq might actually be low enough for you to be declared legally dead. you say that i have made “assumptions”. please point to an assumption that MSNBC and i have made. thanks.

  20. Don’t confuse popular with best president. I think JFK was the worst president even with his short time in office. He accomplished zero while president while being totally responsible for the bay of pig diaster where many people were killed because he turned his back on them after promising to protect them. Jfk was a huge joke in my opinion. The media annointed him because of his Hollywood looks.kinda sounds like now.

  21. actually he accomplished a great deal. He got us going on the space race and he was the one president who actually really protected the United States. He faced down Russia and forced Russia to back down. he forced Russia to take their missiles out of Cuba, which in the words of a former mass murder president “could have hit us in 45 minutes”.

    Founded the Peace Corps
    Proposed what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964
    Created the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity
    Signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

    He didn’t have time to become a great president, but he was vastly superior in his short time to George W. Bush who left his presidency pretty much to Dick Cheney. There will always be an element of popularity and considering JFK as a great president but he has some actions to back it up

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