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In the News: Barbara Bush

Former first lady Barbara Bush died Tuesday evening at the age of 92. Bush was only the second woman in U.S. history to have been both a wife and mother of U.S. presidents. During her time as first lady, she was a passionate advocate for literacy programs across the country. Bush, who described herself as "everybody's grandmother," was twice chosen by Americans -- over Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter -- as coming closest to the "ideal of what a first lady should be." She was very popular with the public during and after her tenure as first lady and appeared frequently on the list of women Americans most admire.

Barbara Bush was rated favorably throughout her husband's presidency: More than eight in 10 Americans rated Bush favorably throughout her husband's time as president. In Gallup's first reading on Bush in January 1989, nearly nine in 10 Americans (86%) said they viewed her favorably. Her favorability ratings remained above 80% in two readings taken in 1992. On average, 83% of Americans rated Bush favorably throughout her time as first lady, making her by far the most favorably viewed first lady in recent U.S. history.

Average Favorability Ratings of First Ladies During Husband's Presidency
Favorable Unfavorable No opinion
% % %
Melania Trump 54 33 13
Michelle Obama 65 27 6
Laura Bush 71 15 15
Hillary Clinton 57 38 5
Barbara Bush 83 10 7

Barbara Bush was consistently rated more favorably than her husband was: In the three Gallup measures taken during his presidency, George H.W. Bush had consistently lower favorability ratings than Barbara Bush did. This is not unusual -- first ladies are typically viewed more favorably by the American public than their husbands are. Additionally, while President Bush's favorable ratings declined as the November 1992 election approached, Barbara's remained strong.

Americans' Personal Opinions of Barbara and George H.W. Bush
Favorable Unfavorable No opinion
% % %
August 1992
Barbara Bush 81 12 7
George H.W. Bush 45 49 6
April 1992
Barbara Bush 81 13 6
George H.W. Bush 55 41 4
January 1989
Barbara Bush 86 5 9
George H.W. Bush 78 13 9

Barbara Bush was among Americans' most admired women: Bush appeared on the top 10 most admired women list 20 times between 1988 and 2010 -- and topped the list twice, in 1991 and 1992. Only six other women, including three other former first ladies (Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Hillary Clinton), appeared in the top 10 more times than Bush did.

Takeaway: Barbara Bush lived a remarkable life and held a unique place in U.S. history. For many Americans, she came closest to the ideal of what a first lady should be. Americans continued to express their admiration of Bush for decades after her husband lost the 1992 presidential election. During and after her service as first lady, she ranked among the top 10 women they most admired.


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