PRINCETON, NJ -- A new USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Jan. 9-11, finds 34% of Americans approving of the overall job George W. Bush is doing as president and 61% disapproving. Those ratings are a shade better than what Bush has received for most of the past year, and may represent the kind of lame-duck approval bounce Gallup has seen for other presidents.
Bush had been averaging a 29% approval rating for the last quarter of his presidency up to now -- identical to his average approval ratings for each of the previous two quarters. Individual Gallup approval readings on Bush exceeded that figure several times in the past year, including a 33% reading in September. However, the current 34% approval score is Bush's highest since January 2008, and a sharp improvement from the 25% recorded right before the November elections.
Bush mainly has members of his own party to thank for the fact that he is ending his presidency with an approval rating above 30%. Republicans' approval of him rose from 67% in mid-December to 75% in the current poll -- their highest rating of Bush in nearly a year. By contrast, approval of Bush remains extremely scarce among Democrats, and continues to fall under 30% among independents.
Historical Exit Ratings
Bush joins Jimmy Carter and Harry Truman as presidents since the end of World War II whose final job approval ratings in office registered in the low 30s.
In one sense, Bush's final rating is worse than either Carter's or Truman's, because his disapproval score is significantly higher. Whereas Bush and Carter share identical 34% final job approval ratings, 61% of Americans disapprove of the job Bush is doing, compared with 55% who said they disapproved of Carter in December 1980. Similarly, whereas Bush's final approval rating is slightly higher than Truman's 32% in 1952, his disapproval rating is also higher (61% vs. 56%), resulting in a lower net approval rating for Bush.
Only Richard Nixon was explicitly less popular at the time of his exit than Bush is today. Gallup's final approval polling on Nixon, in which 24% of Americans said they approved of the job he was doing, was conducted Aug. 2-5, 1974, less than a week before Nixon resigned from office over the Watergate break-in political scandal.
Those with the highest job approval at the conclusion of their presidencies were all two-term presidents: Bill Clinton, with 66% approval; Ronald Reagan, with 63%; and Dwight Eisenhower, with 59%. However, even two presidents who were rebuffed by voters in their efforts to seek a second term -- George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford -- received majority approval in their final days. Close to half of Americans also approved of the job Lyndon Johnson was doing in the final days of his administration.
One benefit of leaving office is that presidents often enjoy a small bounce in their job approval scores. As Gallup Poll Managing Editor Jeff Jones described last month, "It is common for presidents who are about to leave the White House to receive a bump in their job approval ratings between Election Day and Inauguration Day."
For Bush, this bump amounts to nine points, from his 25% approval rating in a Gallup Poll conducted Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2008, to the 34% recorded today. The largest such shift Gallup has recorded was for George H. W. Bush, whose approval score rose 22 points after the 1992 election. However, Reagan, Clinton, Ford, and Johnson also benefited from the softening of public opinion that seems to occur during this period.
Bush has what most would consider the unwanted distinction of registering one of the lowest final job approval ratings of any modern president leaving office at the natural end of his term, and the highest disapproval. While his approval rating has improved since Election Day, the vast majority of Democrats and even most independents still disapprove of how he is handling the job. Only Republicans generally approve of the job Bush is doing, but that may, in fact, be just fine with a president who says his goal has been to do what he believed is right, not what would make him popular.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,031 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 9-11, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.