Historical Look at Presidential Disapproval Ratings
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
by Joseph Carroll
Much of the attention paid to public opinion polls on a president's performance in office focuses on the percentage of Americans who approve of the way that person is handling his job. But what insights can be gained by looking at presidential disapproval ratings?
George W. Bush
The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted June 24-26, finds that 45% of Americans approve of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president, while a slim majority, 53%, disapprove. Since he took office, Bush's lowest disapproval ratings occurred in September 2001, a little over a week after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. A Sept. 21-22 poll found 90% of Americans approving and only 6% disapproving of Bush. In contrast, the current results represent the worst ratings of Bush's presidency. The current approval rating ties Bush's lowest (45% in March 2005), but this poll finds his highest disapproval rating ever.
An analysis of Bush's disapproval ratings on a year-to-year basis shows that just about a quarter of Americans, 24%, disapproved of Bush across 31 polls conducted in 2001. This disapproval average declined by two points in 2002, to 22%. Beginning in 2003, Bush's disapproval average started to increase sharply. About a third of Americans (35%), on average, disapproved of Bush in 2003. This jumped once again in 2004, when 46% of Americans, on average, disapproved. Across the 20 surveys conducted since the start of this year, 47% say they disapprove of Bush -- not much different from what Gallup found last year.
Republicans and Democrats vary significantly in their views of Bush: although the vast majority of Republicans approve of Bush's job performance, there are just as many Democrats who disapprove. The June 24-26 poll finds that 89% of Republicans approve of Bush, while just 10% disapprove. This compares with 11% of Democrats who approve of Bush and 88% who disapprove of him. Among independents, 37% approve and 58% disapprove.
Ever since Gallup first started asking Americans to rate the president in the late 1930s, seven other presidents have experienced a time when a majority of Americans have disapproved of them. Only four presidents never had a disapproval rating over 50%: John F. Kennedy's highest disapproval was 30% about two weeks before his death; Dwight Eisenhower's highest was 36% in March 1958; and both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gerald Ford scored a 46% disapproval rating as their highest.
- Bill Clinton's highest disapproval rating was 54% in September 1994. In fact, several polls that year found at least 50% of Americans disapproving of Clinton's performance as president.
- In the summer of his re-election bid, 60% of Americans told Gallup they disapproved of the way George H.W. Bush was handling the presidency. Across the 14 polls conducted from May 1992 through October 1992, a majority of Americans expressed disapproval in Bush.
- In January 1983, 56% of Americans said they disapproved of Ronald Reagan. Five polls conducted from December 1982 through February 1983 found at least 50% of Americans disapproving of Reagan.
- Many of the polls conducted in 1979 and 1980 found majority disapproval of Jimmy Carter's performance. His highest disapproval was 59% in June and July 1979.
- Just prior to his resignation as president, 66% of Americans said they disapproved of the way Richard Nixon was handling the presidency.
- In March 1968, Gallup found that 52% of Americans disapproved of Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson's disapproval ratings were at 50% or higher only four times in his presidency.
- Harry Truman scored the highest disapproval rating in Gallup's history -- 67% -- in January 1952. Truman also scored the lowest approval rating in Gallup's history, 22%, in a February 1952 poll.