Gallup has been tracking presidential job approval since Harry Truman took office in 1945. The Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center shows President Obama with an all-time high of 69%, when he took office in January 2009, and a to-date low of 40% recorded at the end of July. He is about two-months shy of being in office 1000 days and his average approval is 50%. Regardless of how one interprets the data, one thing abundantly clear: an awful lot of people disapprove of a President most of the time. Who is in office does not really matter.
JFK also sent the first US troops to a country few people had ever heard of – Vietnam. During his 1036 days in office, JFK’s budgets ran deficits to finance his New Frontier programs. His approval ratings scored a high of 83% and a low of 56%. They had been trending down when he was murdered.
Reagan survived an assassination attempt and took credit for the end of Communism with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although he railed against the debt ceiling, it raised 17 times during his eight-year administration. His supply side “Reaganomics,” which his critics called “voodoo
economics,” created more new debt than the combined deficits of all previous presidents. While Reagan said he was committed to reducing government spending, it rose by $321 billion during his presidency, to more than a trillion dollars. He also raised taxes seven times. Only his age and the 22nd Amendment prevented Reagan from running for a third term.
Instead, with a revenue improved economy, the enormous popularity of Ronald Reagan and relative world peace, Vice President George H. W. Bush won the presidency by defeating Massachusetts Democrat Governor Michael Dukakis by a popular vote margin of 53.4% to 45.7%. Best known for his famous pledge, "Read my lips: no new taxes," a recession began. Rising deficits, a declining economy plus a growth in mandatory spending began to further increase the federal deficit. Bush’s approval ratings ranged from a high of 89% to a low of 29%.
By 1990 the deficit had grown to three times its size in 1980. The federal government shut down for three days and the Democratic majority in Congress eventually forced Bush to raise tax revenues. But events of the Gulf War pushed economic issues out of the news and Bush ended up with an overall approval rating of 60.9% for his term in office, second only to Kennedy.
After three Republican presidential terms and the economy again in recession, two candidates ran against President Bush in the 1992 election: Arkansas Democrat Governor Bill Clinton and Independent businessman Ross Perot. Bush's 89% approval ratings following the Persian Gulf War made him look like a certain winner, but the economy trumped his approval ratings at the ballot box. Clinton prevailed with 43% of the popular vote to Bush’s 37.5% and Perot’s 18.9%. Ross Perot capitalized on the economic woe in his 1992 campaign and ran again in 1996. He siphoned an 8.4% popular vote as incumbent President Clinton defeated Kansas Republican Senator Bob Dole 49.2% to 40.7%.
The Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus between the years 1998 and 2000, the longest economic expansion period in US history. Only the second president to be impeached by the House, the Senate failed to muster the Constitutional two-thirds majority requirement to convict and remove an officeholder. Despite the impeachment and another government shutdown, Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any US president since World War II at 60.6%. His highest approval rating scored 73% and his lowest recorded 37%.
John Kennedy: 56
Lyndon Johnson: 35
Richard Nixon: 26
Gerald Ford: 37
Jimmy Carter: 29
Ronald Reagan: 37
George H.W. Bush: 38
Bill Clinton: 37
Article first published as Presidential Approval: So What? on Blogcritics.