PRINCETON, NJ -- Sixty percent of Americans approve of the job John Kerry is doing as secretary of state, while 31% disapprove. His job approval rating eclipses those of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
These results are based on Gallup's Sept. 5-8 Governance poll, conducted in the midst of the U.S. debate over military action in Syria, but before the president's national address on Syria and Saturday's diplomatic agreement between the U.S. and Russia to secure Syria's chemical weapons.
Kerry has been secretary of state since February, maintaining an active presence on the international stage almost from the start. In addition to his high profile in the Syria matter, he has been involved in trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and asking China for assistance with North Korea.
Kerry's approval rating is 81% among Democrats, 55% among independents, and 36% among Republicans. His approval rating among Democrats is nearly identical to Obama's 80% from the same poll, but Obama's rating is much lower among independents (38%) and especially Republicans (9%).
Gallup has only infrequently measured job approval of secretaries of state, and did not ask a job approval question for Kerry's predecessor Hillary Clinton during her term. The data that are available show no clear pattern in how the secretary of state's approval rating compares with that of the president.
In 2005, Condoleezza Rice had a higher approval rating than George W. Bush. Warren Christopher, Bill Clinton's first secretary of state, was not a well-known figure, so it is more difficult to evaluate how he compared with Clinton. Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower were more popular than their secretaries of state -- Alexander Haig and John Foster Dulles, respectively -- when Gallup asked about them. Henry Kissinger, one of the more famous secretaries of state, had higher approval than Gerald Ford in an April 1975 poll, but two subsequent polls found Ford and Kissinger rated similarly.
Presidents, Vice Presidents Usually Rated Similarly
Gallup has measured vice presidential approval ratings more frequently, a total of 29 times since 1989. Historically, presidents' job approval ratings have averaged six percentage points higher than those of their vice presidents. Thus, Vice President Biden's current six-point edge in approval rating over the president is the opposite of the historical norm.
However, the historical average of six points is inflated by the much higher ratings of President George H.W. Bush compared with Vice President Dan Quayle -- all of which were taken before 1992, when Bush's approval ratings declined. Bush's approval ratings were 22 points higher on average than Quayle's when measured in the same poll.
Since the Clinton administration, the president's and vice president's approval ratings have tracked closely. In fact, since 1993, the average difference between presidential and vice presidential job approval ratings taken in the same poll is precisely zero points.
The one notable deviation is the 16-point higher job approval rating for President George W. Bush than for Vice President Dick Cheney in January 2002, several months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Both were popular at the time, however, with approval ratings of 84% for Bush and 68% for Cheney.
As is the case for Kerry, Republicans (23%) and independents (45%) give Biden higher ratings than they give Obama. Democrats' 80% approval rating of Biden is the same as that for Obama.
While Biden's job approval rating currently exceeds Obama's, Americans like the president better. Obama's most recent favorable rating is 52%, compared with 44% for Biden. This has been the case throughout his presidency, as Obama has averaged a 55% favorable rating compared with a 45% average for Biden.
Kerry and Biden both failed in their bids to become president, with Kerry losing the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush and Biden twice unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, in 1988 and 2008. Now both are serving under President Obama, with Americans currently giving Kerry and Biden higher approval ratings than they give Obama.
The president is clearly in a position to shoulder more of the blame when things do not go well, and to take more of the credit when they do. And given the extraordinary attention the media pay to presidents, Americans probably have more information about the president and how he is handling his job to help form a judgment than they do about the vice president and other cabinet members.
But that does not necessarily mean the president has generally lower or higher ratings than those who serve under him. The historical picture on secretaries of state, though limited, is mixed. And presidents' and vice presidents' approval ratings mostly track each other closely.
Explore President Obama's approval ratings in depth and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 5-8, 2013, with a random sample of 1,510 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.