Today (July 6) marks the birthday of George W. Bush (and, coincidentally, former first lady Nancy Reagan).
Bush was born in 1946 in New Haven, Conn. Why was Bush born in New Haven? Because his mother Barbara was there, of course, but she was there because his father, George H. W. Bush, was attending Yale University, having returned from his service as a Navy pilot in World War II. Yale was a natural place for the elder Bush's undergraduate matriculation; his father (Prescott Bush) had gone to Yale. George W. followed in these illustrious footsteps, of course, as he himself also matriculated at Yale in 1964.
George W. Bush served from January 2001 through January 2009 as president. Looking back on it, we find that Bush averaged a job approval rating of 49.4% for these eight years in office. That’s below average for presidents since World War II. Presidents with higher overall job approval averages for their time in office include Eisenhower (65%), Kennedy (70%), Johnson (55%), Reagan (53%), George H.W. Bush (61%), and Bill Clinton (55%). Four presidents, Truman (45%) Nixon (49%), Ford (47%), and Carter (45.5%) had lower averages than Bush.
But, just looking at Bush’s overall approval average is misleading, just as is the average net worth of $200,000,000 per patron in a restaurant -- if one of them happens to be Bill Gates.
Bush’s job approval ratings peaked in his first two years in office, based on a dramatic uptick which came with the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks. His ratings slid each year thereafter. His highest rating was an average of 71% in his second year, Jan. 20, 2002 through Jan. 19, 2003. That single-year average is one of the highest on Gallup’s record. Other presidents with higher single-year averages include Truman’s first truncated year in office after he took over when FDR died in April 1945 (a time period which of course encompassed the end of World War II), Eisenhower in 1956, JFK in both 1961 and 1962, and LBJ in his first truncated months after taking over from JFK in November 1963, and in his first full year in office in 1964.
But, as noted, George W. Bush’s ratings began to fall after 2002, to 60% in 2003, 50% in 2004, 46% in 2005, 37% in 2006, 33% in 2007, and 30% in 2008, his last year in office.
Bush’s single-year average of 30% in 2008 is, in fact, one of the lowest single-year averages on record. Presidents who had lower yearly averages were Truman in 1951 (26.5% average) and Richard Nixon in his last partial year, 1974, which extended from January through his Watergate-induced resignation in August (25% average). Jimmy Carter is the only president other than Truman, Nixon, and George W. Bush to have a yearly average in the 30% range (37% in 1979 and 38% in 1980).
So Bush’s presidency was marked by sharply distinct highs and lows. He underwent a drop of 41 percentage points in yearly approval averages between 2002 and 2008.
Last November we asked Americans to give us “retrospective” approval ratings on previous presidents, and Bush came in with a 47% rating, roughly where his average was for his entire term. Reagan has the highest jump in retrospective ratings, going from his actual average of 53% to a 74% retrospective average. Other presidents who have jumped significantly retrospectively include JFK (+15, based on his retrospective approval rating of 85% compared to his actual rating while in office of 70%), Ford (+14), and Clinton (+14).
Bush has another distinction. He is a member of the first year's worth of baby boomers, since demographers mark the beginning of that generation as January 1946. Bush is in fact an exemplar of the reason behind the baby boom -- the huge number of families formed and babies born as GIs returned from their service in World War II. The baby boom bulge will have unknown, but no doubt major, effects on American society in the years to come, as the nation’s population pyramid tilts more and more toward the elderly.
How will George W. Bush's presidency look in 20 or 30 years? Check back then and we will let you know.