skip to main content

Americans Grew to Accept Nixon's Pardon

by Joseph Carroll


PRINCETON, NJ -- More than a quarter of a century after his controversial pardon of Richard Nixon, former President Gerald Ford was honored with the 2001 Profiles in Courage award at the John F. Kennedy library on Monday May 21. On September 8, 1974, roughly one month after taking office, Ford pardoned Nixon for any involvement in the Watergate scandal, arguing this pardon was a way to heal the nation after a long period of political turmoil. A review of Gallup polling shows that a majority of Americans opposed the pardon in 1974, but over time Americans gradually accepted it as the right thing for the nation.

Initial Gallup polling on this issue conducted September 6-9, 1974 showed that only 38% of Americans said Ford should grant Nixon a pardon if he was brought to trial and found guilty, while a majority of Americans (53%) felt that Ford should not grant Nixon a pardon. (Most of this poll was conducted prior to Ford's pardon of Nixon on September 8, 1974.)

In June 1976, as Ford was in the midst of his campaign for president, similar results were found. Thirty-five percent of Americans believed Ford did the right thing in granting Nixon a pardon, but still a majority (55%) said it was the wrong thing to do.

A June 1982 poll revealed a shift in public opinion -- Americans were evenly divided on whether Ford did the right thing or the wrong thing when he pardoned Nixon. Forty-six percent approved and 46% disapproved of Ford's decision.

By 1986, when the question was last asked, a majority of Americans had come to support Ford's decision. In the poll, 54% of Americans said that Ford did the right thing, but a substantial minority (39%) still felt that Ford should not have pardoned Nixon.

When Ford took office in August 1974, his presidential approval ratings were remarkably high -- his initial approval rating was 71%. In the first Gallup poll conducted after his pardon of Nixon, Ford's approval rating dropped 21 percentage points to 50%. The decline in approval ratings continued throughout 1974 and reached a low of 37% in January 1975. Ford's approval scores began to recover in May 1975 and he ended his term with an approval rating of 53%.

As you may know, President Ford granted Richard Nixon a pardon from criminal charges arising out of Watergate. Do you think Ford did the right thing or the wrong thing in granting Nixon a pardon?


Right thing

Wrong thing

No opinion





1986 Apr 30-May 1 ^




1982 Jun 2-3 ^




1976 Jun 11-14




1974 Sep 6-9 †





^ Gallup/Newsweek


† WORDING: If Nixon is brought to trial and found guilty, do you think he should or should not be granted a pardon by President Ford?

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030