According to a new CNN/ORC poll, Americans now view George W. Bush more favorably than President Obama. When asked for their “overall opinion” of current and past presidents, Americans were most likely to favor George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Both Clinton and the elder Bush were considered “favorable” by 64 percent of the population. Fifty-two percent of the population consider George W. Bush in a favorable manner, compared to 49 percent of respondents that view President Obama as favorable.
Although these statistics are likely too close to be significant, they do show how perception has shifted in regards to both of these presidents. Toward the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, it seemed as if the country had turned against him. His approval ratings had plummeted from his first years in office. Soon after 9/11, Gallup clocked Bush’s high point at 90 percent approval. His low point, toward the end of his second term in 2008, dipped down to 25 percent. Part of the reason Obama — and Democrats in general — won the election in 2008 was because he was considered the anti-Bush (compared to the relatively similar McCain).
Obama, on the other hand, has watched his approval rating slip much like Bush’s did toward the end of his presidency. Obama never reached as high as an approval rating as Bush, but he did clock 69 percent approval in 2009. His low reached 38 percent last September, and his current approval rating is 44.6 percent. That’s not as terrible as Bush's rating during his final year in office, but it still shows that public opinion of Obama has drastically fallen as his presidency has gone on.
As the below Gallup graphics show, every president since Jimmy Carter has had a downward trend in approval rating from the beginning of his term toward the end. The only exceptions are Ronald Reagan (who began at 50 percent approval and ended at slightly above 60 percent) and Bill Clinton (who began slightly below 60 percent and finished slightly below 70 percent). For the most part, the approval ratings of these presidents were consistent. All the others appear to have lost the approval of the public as time went on.
The recent CNN/ORC polls will also have implications in the 2016 presidential elections. The increasingly positive view of George W. Bush will be beneficial for his brother, Jeb, whose family association is seen as one of the major hurdles his candidacy faces. The overall positive view of Bill Clinton will also be beneficial for Hillary’s candidacy. The unpopularity of Obama, however, could have a negative effect on the Democratic Party in general.
The trends identified in these polls should also serve as a reminder of how drastically opinions of politicians can change throughout a relatively short timeframe. Bush was beloved after 9/11, hated after dragging the country into unnecessary wars, but more well-liked in retrospect (and after eight years of a Democratic president). Obama had overwhelming support after winning his election on promises of hope and change, but the approval has fallen now that no drastic change has truly come. When it comes to the 2016 presidential elections, voters will need to keep in mind how early support and optimism in a candidate often leads to disappointment.