Bookmark and ShareShare
Friday, July 29, 2011

Debt Crisis Update: Boehner, Tea Party, Obama, Economic Confidence

You may have missed this point in our recent analysis of our July 27 poll: Speaker of the House John Boehner is doing a lot better with the Tea Party wing of his party than with the non-Tea Party wing. The data are based on fairly small sample sizes because we split the Republican part of the sample into two groups, but the differences are large.

Republicans who call themselves Tea Party supporters approve of how Boehner is handling the debt situation by a 65% to 30% margin. Republicans who are not Tea Party supporters break essentially even in their views of how Boehner is handling the debt situation, by a 38% approve to 40% disapprove margin.

Readers' eagle eyes may have noticed that there are many more "don't knows" among those who are not Tea Party supporters than among those who are -- 22% to 5%, to be precise. Why? That's a good question. These data suggest that Republicans who don't support the Tea Party are less engaged in the whole debt ceiling debate going on right now.

Boehner's lack of favor with the non-Tea Party wing of the GOP brings down his overall approval numbers on his handling of the debt situation to 50% (when all Republicans are amalgamated together). His disapproval among all Republicans is 35%. That can be contrasted with a ratio of 75% approval to 15% disapproval for President Barack Obama among Democrats. Of course, Boehner’s ratings can also be compared with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s anemic 36% positive to 36% negative ratio among Democrats.

Some news accounts focus on Boehner's supposed problem with the Tea Party faction of the GOP. These data suggest that as far as the rank and file are concerned, it is the moderate wing of the GOP that is more his problem.

The most important finding in all of the data from Wednesday night is probably that all three politicians -- Obama, Boehner, and Reid -- receive more disapproval than approval from the average American when asked to assess how they are handing the debt ceiling situation.

Obama Approval and Economic Confidence

At this point, I think Americans will respond negatively to almost any entity we put in front of them in a survey context. Certainly we are seeing that in terms of our Gallup Daily tracking numbers for Barack Obama -- whose 40% job approval rating for July 26-28 is now the lowest of his administration so far.

And, extending the analysis written by my colleague Dennis Jacobe earlier this week, we find that the trajectory of economic confidence during the debt crisis continues to be negative, negative, negative.  The current numbers are as bad as we have had them since early 2009.


We now have a situation in which three-quarters of Americans say that the U.S. economy is getting worse, not better.

Two Well-Confirmed Conclusions

Two conclusions about public opinion in the current situation are evident from a review of all available data:

1.  Despite taking hits himself, Obama does better than the generic “Republicans in Congress” both in terms of being perceived to be better able to make decisions about the debt situation, and also in terms of who will be more to blame if the debt ceiling is not raised.

2.  The majority of Americans want a compromise on the debt situation, one which includes both spending cuts and revenue increases. (Of course, the politicians involved say that they too want a compromise, as long as the compromise favors their position.)

Confidence in Congress

Keep in mind that Americans have less confidence in Congress than in any other institution Gallup tests. Americans have more confidence in the military than in any other institution Gallup tests. Why? We don’t have precise data on that, but it’s likely because the military is seen as efficient and able to get things done effectively.  Congress isn't.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Political Repercussions of the Debt Crisis

People ask how the current debt ceiling negotiations are going to affect next year's elections.

Speaker of the House John Boehner doesn’t have to worry much about in terms of his personal re-election. He represents the GOP-safe 8th district in Ohio and was returned to office with 66% of the vote in 2010. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is not in a safe political situation. He does have to worry about his re-election, particularly given the parlous state of the U.S. economy -- the economy being, of course, a major predictor of an incumbent president’s chances of re-election. As noted in this analysis, Obama’s job approval rating is not too positive at this point, at 43% for last week, although up slightly at the beginning of this week. That’s way below the 50% threshold where an incumbent would feel comfortable about his chances of winning re-election.

Despite having no personal re-election concerns, Boehner presumably is concerned about whether or not Obama is re-elected, whether or not the GOP is able to maintain control of the House next year, and whether or not the Democrats will maintain control of the Senate.

So there are political concerns on both sides. The question is: Will this current debt ceiling debate have legs and still be an issue by the time Americans go into the voting booths more than 15 months from now? And if so, who will it benefit.

The answers to those questions are still to be determined. The general state of the economy is the major factor underneath all of this. If the economy is perceived by Americans as weak next fall, Obama’s probabilities of being re-elected are low regardless of what happens in this “Summer of '11” debt debate. And if the economy is perceived by Americans as recovering and growing next fall, then Obama will be in a better situation -- again, regardless of how this debt situation plays out.

Of course, if the Republicans are perceived to have gotten their way in this debt ceiling debate and the economy is still in bad shape next year, they may not be in quite as good a position as they would want. If they get their way and the economy is recovering by next year, they will attempt to take credit for the recovery.

But -- most importantly -- we don’t have an agreement yet and therefore projections about the precise impact of this whole situation are speculative. In particular, we don’t know yet how this is going to play out in terms of the atmospherics that accompany any agreement that is reached, and how each entity involved will fare in the minds of average Americans -- the majority of whom are not as tuned into this situation as are those of us who follow the ins and outs of politics for a living.

Every crisis carries with it opportunities. Military officers look for crises to face and problems to solve in order to be able to gain credit and recognition and thus promotion. Crises provide the environment in which significant impressions can be formed, some of which can be long lasting. The frequency with which Obama's team has put him on television in recent weeks clearly indicates that they are looking at this crisis as an opportunity to develop a positioning for the president that will last into next year.

So far, we haven’t seen a great deal of change in Obama's standing as measured by his job approval rating, as noted. He has not lost ground. Nor has he gained ground. We will be further tracking the public’s perception of Obama and Speaker Boehner in the next several days. Stay tuned for that.

We know that, to date, Obama has somewhat more positive positioning than Republicans in Congress, based on available polling. But to be better positioned than the Republican (or Democratic) leaders in Congress is not the point. The president needs to be better positioned than his Republican opponent next year.

Two of his possible Republican opponents -- Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul -- are members of Congress and are therefore going to have to vote (or avoid voting) on some debt ceiling measure or the other here shortly.  They will be on the record, which could help or hurt them if they were to gain their party's nomination. 

A grand total of six of Obama’s possible opponents are former governors -- Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, and Gary Johnson -- and would therefore be in a position, should they gain the nomination, to point out how well they did when they were running the budget process in their state. (Of course, critics will attempt to point out how poorly they did, as is already happening in the case of Romney). One of Obama’s possible opponents is a former Speaker of the House (Newt Gingrich) who went through a similar process in 1995 and 1996, and who would, no doubt, attempt to spin what happened back then (when he was perceived to have lost the battle with President Clinton) in a positive light. One of Obama's possible opponents is a former mayor of a city (Rudy Giuliani) that now has a $66 billion budget -- as large as many states -- and who therefore is in a position to talk about how he personally did when managing these types of fiscal situations. One of his possible opponents is the former CEO of a pizza business (Herman Cain) who can talk about how he had to handle finances and meet payrolls and so forth.

All of this is important because a president's ability to convince voters than he or she can best manage the U.S. economy will almost certainly be of major salience as campaign 2012 unfolds next year.

All in all, there's both potential political opportunity and potential political danger involved for Obama as a result of the current debt ceiling crisis. This situation could be forgotten by this time next year -- or could become a defining moment that helps shape the 2012 election.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Americans on the Consequences of Missing the Aug. 2 Deadline

Here’s what we have heard from the U.S. government:

“The Treasury Department continues to project that the United States will exhaust its borrowing authority under the debt limit on August 2, 2011. Secretary Geithner urges Congress to avoid the catastrophic economic and market consequences of a default crisis by raising the statutory debt limit in a timely manner.”

Do Americans go along with the Treasury Department's fairly dramatic assertion? 

The degree to which Americans agree with the possibility or probability of catastrophic consequences if an agreement to extend the debt is not reached has been measured by a number of polls. I would say the resulting data show that a majority of Americans believe there will be trouble if the deadline is missed.  But, taken as a whole, the public is not as catastrophically worried as the Treasury Department and others have suggested they should be.

A recent Gallup poll question -- July 15-17 -- asked about two consequences if an agreement to raise the debt limit is not being reached by the Aug. 2 deadline. First “Do you think an economic crisis will or will not result?” The answers to that were 56% yes, 40% no. Second “Do you think the government will or will not have to delay sending out Social Security and veterans’ benefit payments?” The answer to that was more mixed, 45% yes, and 49% no.

A NBC News/The Wall Street Journal poll -- July 14-17 -- asked the question in a slightly different way: “If Congress does not vote to raise the debt ceiling, do you believe that this would be a real and serious problem or not? If you do not know enough to have an opinion, please say so.” The answers? 55% say it will be a real and serious problem, while 18% say it will not; 27% don’t give an opinion.

A Pew Research Center Poll -- July 15-17 -- asked “Do you think it is absolutely essential that the federal debt limit be raised by August 2nd to avoid an economic crisis, or do you think the country can go past the August 2nd date for when the government reaches its debt limit without major economic problems?”

The answers showed that 40% said it was essential to avoid a crisis, 39% said the deadline could be passed without major economic problems, while 21% said they were unsure.

A CNN/ORC poll -- July 18-20 -- asked “If the debt ceiling is not raised, do you think that would cause a crisis, major problems, minor problems, or no problems at all for the United States?

Here the respondent is given the choice of four alternatives. The answers: 18% say a crisis will result, 43% major problems, 31% minor problems, and 6% no problems at all.

CBS News -- July 15-17 -- asked respondents to choose between two more complex alternatives: “If a deal is not reached on raising the debt ceiling, some people say the U.S. would be forced into default on its current debts -- that is, it would be unable to repay money that it has already borrowed. Other people say the U.S. would still be able to meet its debt payments and a default would not happen. From what you have seen or heard, do you think the U.S. probably would or probably would not default on its debts if a deal is not reached to increase the debt ceiling?” Given these choices, 38% said that the U.S. probably would default, while 51% said that it probably would not. (11% unsure).

The CBS News poll also asked how likely it would be that “the economy and the stock market take a severe downturn” and that “payments made to veterans and Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries will be stopped?” Respondents were given three choices for each: very, somewhat, or not at all likely. Forty-five percent said that the first is very likely with 37% saying it was somewhat likely, while 27% said the second is very likely with 27% saying somewhat likely.

What do we learn from these measures? In general, as noted above, the data show that Americans, taken as a whole, tend to agree that there will be negative consequences to the prospect of missing the debt deadline. But, this is by no means a universal perception. At most, we find 56% agreeing with the certitude of severely negative consequences if the deadline is not reached. In some types of measures, less than half of Americans agree that severely negative consequences will ensue if the deadline is not reached. 

Most average Americans, of course, have no real knowledge of the precise consequences of the U.S. government not raising the debt ceiling by Aug. 2. In fact, it is not clear that even learned economists and other experts have a precise idea of what is going to happen if the deadline is not met. So, in this instance, we are polling Americans to gauge the degree to which the various prognostications about the future have taken root in their consciousness, regardless of the reality of the situation.  This is important because the consequences of beliefs are real, even if the basis for those beliefs are not. In this instance I would say that the beliefs show that Americans, taken as a whole, do feel that negative consequences will ensue if the deadline is not reached, but that this belief pattern is by no means universal -- and apparently is at least somewhat labile.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

President Obama Pays Homage to the Wisdom of the People

The New York Times Monday morning carried an article reporting on Americans’ reactions to the current deficit/debt ceiling situation. The article began with a reference to President Obama's recently frequent discussion of American public opinion. As the Times author, Jesse McKinley, writes: “On Friday morning, President Obama insisted that he completely understood how the American people – a phrase he mentioned more than two dozen times – felt about the slow pace of negotiations over the debt ceiling.” 

Obama's highly frequent references to the American people and to polls in his Friday press conference marks something of a change of heart. As I reviewed here, the president took pains in his Monday press conference last week to point out how one shouldn’t pay attention to public opinion on this issue, saying: “…The public is not paying close attention to the ins and outs of how a Treasury option goes. They shouldn’t. They're worrying about their family; they're worrying about their jobs; they're worrying about their neighborhood. They've got a lot of other things on their plate. We're paid to worry about it

By the end of the week, Obama had apparently changed his mind, and was quite willing to pay attention to the public’s views on the topic.

In his Friday morning press conference Obama -- among many references to the views of the people -- said this: “You have 80 percent of the American people who support a balanced approach. Eighty percent of the American people support an approach that includes revenues and includes cuts. So the notion that somehow the American people aren’t sold is not the problem.”

Now, this particular reference is of some interest to us here at Gallup, since the White House later acknowledged that this was Gallup data to which he was referring. The statement was of interest to more than just us, apparently, as a number of journalists and others (see here and here as examples) took the occasion to jump on the President’s statement and point out that he was not entirely precise in his analysis of what the data showed.

Here are the basic data Obama was using as the basis for his statement: 


Obviously, Obama or the advisers who briefed him came up with the “80%” figure by subtracting the percentage choosing the “only with spending cuts” option from 100%.

But that’s not quite right. If you do the math, you see that the total who want an approach that includes revenues and cuts is actually 69%: 30% who want mostly spending cuts, 32% who want equal spending cuts and tax increases, and 7% who want mostly tax increases. Four percent want only tax increases and another 6% said they didn’t have an opinion (the table doesn’t add up to 100% due to rounding errors). So the president should have said: "You have 69% of the American people who support a balanced approach. Sixty-nine percent of the American people support an approach that includes revenues and includes cuts. So the notion that somehow the American people aren’t sold is not the problem.”

The spirit of what the president said was true; the precise numbers he used were not.

In his extraordinary press conference on Friday, Obama went on to say a lot more about the public’s opinion on the deficit/debt situation, including:
  • My hope, though, is that they’re listening not just to lobbyists or special interests here in Washington, but they’re also listening to the American people. Because it turns out poll after poll, many done by your organizations, show that it’s not just Democrats who think we need to take a balanced approach; it’s Republicans as well.
  • The clear majority of Republican voters think that any deficit reduction package should have a balanced approach and should include some revenues. That’s not just Democrats; that’s the majority of Republicans.
  • So this is not just a Democratic understanding; this is an understanding that I think the American people hold….
  • And so this is not a matter of the American people knowing what the right thing to do is. This is a matter of Congress doing the right thing and reflecting the will of the American people.
  • You know why I have hope? It’s because of the American people. When I talk to them and I meet with them, as frustrated as they are about this town, they still reflect good common sense. And all we have to do is align with that common sense on this problem, it can get solved.
The president clearly is focused on paying attention to the American people in these statements, even if they are -- as he suggested earlier last week -- not totally informed on complex policy issues.

Now, it may be that Obama is in his own mind making a nuanced distinction between the positive functions of the broad direction the American people would give their elected representatives, and the American people’s inability to provide direction in terms of very specific particulars. (It’s also true that politicians frequently will decry polls when they contradict their positions or policy stances, but will happily quote them when they are supportive.)

Nevertheless, any emphasis on paying attention to what the American people want -- including looking at and paying attention to well-done public opinion polls -- is a good thing in my opinion. The collective views of the people are wise, and to ignore them is not only quite often to commit political folly, but also a genuine waste of very valuable input into the tough decisions of our time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

President Obama, the American Public, and the Debt Crisis

Polls have been a topic of discussion in presidential press conferences and press briefings twice this week.

President Obama on Monday was asked about a poll showing that the majority of Americans were opposed to raising the debt limit. Obama responded expansively, in essence saying two things. First, that he didn’t think the public was knowledgeable enough to weigh in on this subject (“…The public is not paying close attention to the ins and outs of how a Treasury option goes. They shouldn’t. They're worrying about their family; they're worrying about their jobs; they're worrying about their neighborhood. They've got a lot of other things on their plate. We're paid to worry about it”).

Second, that if he wrote a poll question on the topic he could get majority support for raising the debt limit. (Here’s his question: “…if you said to the American people, is it a good idea for the United States not to pay its bills and potentially create another recession that could throw millions of more people out of work, I feel pretty confident I can get a majority on my side on that one.”)

Later this week Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about a Gallup poll showing that people didn’t want to raise the debt ceiling. Carney -- obviously briefed on the same talking point Obama used -- responded in similar fashion: “So I think it’s easy to understand why most Americans don’t have a lot of time to focus on what is a debt ceiling. I mean, honestly, did anybody in this room, before they had to cover issues like this, have any idea what a debt ceiling was?

So it’s clear that the White House strategists have decided that their way of publicly dealing with poll results on the debt ceiling issue is to dismiss it under an assumption that the topic is too complex for the public. Therefore, the public’s responses are not terribly meaningful. I say “publicly” in the previous sentence because it is highly likely that the Obama team is being briefed on, if not conducting, its own internal public opinion research on this topic.

Others in the media have adopted this same type of take on polls on the debt. One news site reported a question from this week’s Gallup poll on the topic thusly:

"It may say more about the state of economic education than anything else but a majority of Americans remain opposed raising the federal debt ceiling according to a new Gallup poll. And that's despite dire warnings by experts that a default by the U.S. government could be calamitous. It would likely cause higher interest rates not just for the federal government but throughout the economy."

The underlying assumption on the part of the journalist who wrote this, of course, is that the public’s state of economic education is not all that great.

If that’s true, then we might expect that those who are paying the most attention to the issue, and those with the highest levels of education, would be most strongly in favor of raising the debt ceiling.

However, that’s not the case. As pointed out by my colleague Lydia Saad in her recent analysis, those Americans following the issue very closely tilt almost as strongly against raising the debt ceiling as those who are not following it closely. In terms of education, college graduates are as likely to oppose raising the debt ceiling as those with some college or only a high school degree. Those with post graduate degrees -- who tilt Democratic in party orientation -- oppose rather than favor the idea of raising the debt ceiling, albeit by a smaller 44% to 40% margin.

Take a look at the reasons given by those who oppose raising the debt ceiling, as discussed here:


These appear to be fairly rational responses. They don’t seem to suggest that the 42% of Americans who opposed raising the debt ceiling are totally clueless. Of course, these open-ended responses don’t address directly the issue raised by Obama -- that people may not be aware of the deleterious consequences of not raising the debt ceiling. But they do show that those opposed to raising the debt ceiling have fairly well-thought out explanations. Also, we know that those who are in favor of raising the debt ceiling are aware of the type of consequences Obama brought up. Read through the responses given by the pro-raise-the-debt-ceiling respondents below:



All in all, it seems that the type of knowledge available to the experts in Washington who are, as the president put it, paid to worry about such things, is also to at least some degree available to the hoi polloi.

In our recent poll, we asked respondents which they worried about more -- not raising the debt ceiling and therefore opening up the country to an economic crisis, or raising the debt ceiling without plans for major spending cuts in future spending. The answers showed that Americans were more worried about the latter than the former.

Of course, the first of these is essentially Obama and the Democrats’ position. Our wording of the question was not as dramatic and dire as the wording suggested by the president in his press conference. But the results show that when reminded of the consequences of a “crisis,” Americans still tilted toward being more concerned about the consequences of raising the deficit without cutting back spending.

Wall Street Journal and NBC News polling came at this in a somewhat different way in two recent surveys, one in April and one in May. They gave respondents arguments on both sides of the debt ceiling issue.  They changed the wording in the arguments significantly between the two dates, but when we focus just on the wording used in the May survey we find a statement somewhat like the one suggested by Obama:

“Some people say raise the debt ceiling because failing to do so could stop the government from meeting its obligations, including payments to those on Social Security and in the military, and cause a shock to the economy. Efforts to control debt should be comprehensive and long term rather than artificial and short term.”

The writers of the WSJ-NBC News survey used the following wording on behalf of the “don’t raise” the debt ceiling position:

“Some people say do not raise the debt ceiling because doing so will make it easier to increase spending and harder to reduce the deficit, and will increase the debt held by other countries and passed on to the next generation”.

With these two arguments included in the question, the responses broke almost even -- 46% against raising the debt ceiling, and 42% in favor of it. When a milder explanation of the “pro-raising the ceiling” position was used in April, including most importantly not including the specific words “Social Security” and “the military,” the responses broke 62% against, and 32% in favor of raising the debt ceiling.

These results suggest that public opinion can be moved on the issue of the debt ceiling when various arguments are presented pro and con.

Mark Blumenthal at Huffington Post, admirably collected and analyzed a number of other questions which have been asked about the debt ceiling with various explanations and rationales and arguments attached.

His review basically shows, as I’ve been saying here, that opinion can be moved in one direction or the other on this issue with various arguments included in the question wording, but -- as was the case in the WSJ-NBC News poll -- that there is no evidence that Obama's type of argument wins out in some dominant fashion when arguments on both sides are made by pollsters.

Gallup asked a “naked” question about the debt in our most recent poll (by naked, I mean without explanations or discussions of the rationale). We found Americans more opposed than in favor of raising the debt ceiling by a 20 percentage point margin, with a little more than a third having no opinion on the issue.

Many leaders who have well-thought out and fiercely held beliefs and positions assume that if the public looked at the issues just as thoughtfully and thoroughly as they did, the public would come to the exact same conclusions as they (the leaders) have. These leaders naturally assume that if available evidence shows that the public does not share their beliefs, then the public’s grasp of the issues must not be well-thought out or thorough.

This is the type of position adopted by Obama in his press conference -- that Americans’ opinions were not valid since Americans are not paying attention to the debt issues and are not in a position to grasp the complexities of what is involved, and that if Americans were given the facts they would shift strongly towards his position.

The data don’t fully support these contentions, however. I would say a) there is little evidence that the most informed Americans and those paying most attention to this issue are heavily in favor of Obama’s position on this issue, as he implied they would or should be, and b) there is little evidence that if Americans are given both the type of argument in favor of raising the debt ceiling suggested by Obama and an argument against raising the debt ceiling along the lines of the Republican position, that they come down heavily in favor of the Obama position.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Jewish Democrats’ Support for Obama

NOTE: Gallup Senior Editor Lydia Saad is guest-posting this blog entry.


Gallup recently published a story focusing on approval of President Obama among American Jews, finding no evidence that his May 19 Mideast policy speech had a significant impact on Jewish attitudes. The story also addressed the trend among Jewish Democrats, specifically. As noted, Gallup Daily tracking data for the seven weeks on either side of the speech showed 86% of Jewish Democrats approving of Obama prior to May 19 and 85% after -- essentially no change.

To expand that analysis, here are the full monthly trends for Obama’s approval ratings among Jewish Democrats. This is shown alongside the trend in approval among all Democrats (with the larger sample sizes for the latter producing a smoother line).



Jewish Democrats’ approval of Obama in June 2011 (83%) was nine percentage points lower than the 92% recorded at the start of his presidency in January 2009. That decrease matches the decline, from 87% to 78%, seen among all Democrats over the same period. In other words, the decline in Obama approval among Jewish Democrats has been no steeper than the decline among all Democrats -- indicating Obama has not done anything to particularly alienate his Jewish base.

This can also be seen by comparing June 2011 approval ratings to the average ratings of Obama from January 2009 through May 2011. Jewish Democrats’ 83% approval of Obama in June is just three points lower than their average approval of him for all previous months of his presidency (86%). This three-point gap is essentially no different from the four-point gap between the two figures seen for all Democrats (78% in June vs. 82% for all prior months).

Obama’s May 19 speech -- in which he announced his support for Israel’s 1967 borders as the foundation for renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks -- received an immediate, and in some cases strongly negative, reaction from Israeli officials, members of Congress, media pundits, and others “in the know.” Perhaps their reactions to Obama’s proposals and associated commentary on Obama’s support for Israel is still filtering down to the public, including to ordinary Jewish Americans, and thus the full impact on public opinion is still forming. If that’s the case, Gallup may yet find a shift in Jewish attitudes in July. It’s also possible that the main impact of Obama’s speech is on the most politically active Jewish Americans, and will affect their support and financial contributions even if it doesn’t affect the views of average Jewish Democrats across the country. For now, however, it’s clear the speech has not shaken confidence in Obama among Jewish Americans, broadly -- or, more specifically, among Jewish Democrats.

Lydia Saad

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

George W. Bush Marks a Significant Birthday

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.

Copyright © 2010 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. | Terms of Use | Privacy Statement