President Barack Obama never thought it was possible but he is now just as liked or unliked as his predecessor Republican George W. Bush (2001-2009) according to new CNN and Gallup polls released on Thursday, June 12, 2014. Whereas Obama always used to blame Bush for the problems America faced at home and abroad, nearly six years after his 2008 election Obama is now the one shouldering that blame. According the new polls released by CNN/ORC International and Gallup, Obama's favorable rating is now 47 percent, with an unfavorable rating at 51 and 52 percent respectively, both are records for the once overwhelmingly loved president. Bush's have now moved up to a 46 percent favorable rating, and a 51 percent unfavorable rating. The CNN poll looked at favorable ratings of all living presidents and first ladies from George H.W Bush to Obama.
The CNN poll made a direct comparison to Bush's present favorable and unfavorable ratings. Obama's ratings have steadily fallen since his poll high of 78 percent for the week of his first inauguration in January 2009. He first lost steam by October of his first term in office where he reached only 60 percent favorable rating, but for the most part remained in the fifties range until this March when he hit 49 percent and has not rebounded. CNN Polling Director Keating Holland commented that "This marks the first time in a CNN poll that a majority of Americans have an unfavorable view of Obama. And, at 51%, his unfavorable his higher than his favorables for the first time as well."
Former President George W. Bush's ratings have risen since them from his lows at the time he left office in 2009 at 33 percent favorable and 63 percent unfavorable. Bush has not seen such good ratings since September 2006 a year after his lacklustre response to Hurricane Katrina, which prompted his job approval ratings to start their free fall. Throughout the later part of his second term Bush saw mostly rating numbers in the thirties, as the economy faltered and opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reach all time highs. Bush saw only a slight rebound to the early forties since he left office. The change in the public perception of Bush occurred since May 2012 until now, demonstrating as Obama's numbers fell, Bush's rose.
For Obama his once promising presidency and myth surrounding him as solution to all that the country's woes has been mired in realities and events both in and out of his control that have ruined the love affair. After more than a term in office the problems Obama inherited from the Bush administration, the economic problems, wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan became his problems. The president had his own share of late first term and second term problems with domestic policy; a sluggish economic recovery, the health care law and its disastrous roll out and general inability to get Congress to pass his agenda, mishandling of foreign policy; the Benghazi, Libya terror attacks, Syria's ongoing civil war, and the Ukraine crisis, and a series of scandals; IRS, NSA, and now with the Veteran Affairs (VA) and questionable prisoner swap to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Bush administration holdovers coupled with Obama's own policy failures all led to Obama fatigue and a drop in his favorable ratings.
Meanwhile, the longer Bush has been out of office, memory and the anger fades about the policies of his administration. The problems seem out of his entire control, and the public does not seen his successor having an easier times also lifts some of the blame. Except for the release of his memoir Bush spent four years almost completely out of the limelight and media scrutiny coming out for the opening of his presidential library and museum in April 2013. Since then Bush continues to refuse to criticize Obama, and instead focuses on the issues he is working on his presidential center, including help for Africa and veterans. Bush's new career as an artist and painter makes him more likeable, softening his image, and improving his favorable rating. Time does heal some wounds.
Neither Obama nor Bush will reach the favorable rating former President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) experiences. Clinton currently sits on the top of the recent presidents with a whopping 66 percent favorable rating, and a low 31 percent unfavorable rating. The American public's love for Clinton withstood all his varying personal scandals and near impeachment. Clinton's numbers have also improved since he left office surging to the sixties since 2008 from his all time low of 39 favorable and 59 percent unfavorable ratings two months after he left office in March 2001.
Clinton for the most part maintained a favorable rating in the early sixties, mid-fifties for most of his presidency, with the rare foray into the high forties in the last year of his presidency. Even the re-emergence in early May of Monica Lewinsky in a Vanity Fair article, who was at the heart of the biggest scandal of his presidency, has not altered the public's perception of him. Clinton's popularity may be a help for former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she considers taking another try for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Clinton's own predecessor Republican George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) is also enjoying high favorable ratings at 58 percent with only 33 percent unfavorable. George H.W. Bush is also George W. Bush's father, and just celebrated his 90th birthday on Thursday, June 12, 2014 with his sixth skydive and good news on the ratings front. After more 20 years, since he was ousted from office after only one term, because of an economic recession, he is far removed from his foreign policy triumphs and domestic policy problems and is known more for being George W. Bush's father, a skydiver and wearing colorful socks.
The first ladies fare better in the poll with Barbara Bush, George H. W. Bush's wife and considered one of the most loved first ladies of all time with a 71percent favorable rating and only 18 percent unfavorable rating the best showing of the entire poll, but lower than the 85 percent she experience in January 1993, when the Bushes left the White House. Next Laura Bush, George W. Bush's wife has a 68 percent favorable rating with a low 16 percent unfavorable rating. The ratings light throughout the Bush presidency; Mrs. Bush was continually popular during her husband's tenure, and while her husband's ratings kept shrinking; her rating remained the same since the time she left her tenure. Former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now seeing her favorable rating falling to 55 percent with a 42 percent unfavorable rating, the worst of all the former first ladies mostly because of the fall out of her political career; her role and questionable responsibility for the Obama's administration's response to the 2012 Benghazi, Libya terror attacks.
First Lady Michelle Obama has a better showing than her husband with a 61 percent favorable, and 34 percent unfavorable rating, but still is seeing the worst showing of her tenure, where she has hovered in the mid to high sixties for the most part, with an exception of a 62 percent rating in April 2012. The first lady in general sees good reviews for her Joining Forces initiative to help military families and those of veterans, but has recently faced a backlash with the nutrition element of her Lets Move! campaign. Students in schools have objected to her healthy school lunches, with its restrictions, and Congress intending to vote on a bill to roll back on the 2010 rules which school are finding costly to maintain, while Mrs. Obama has vowed to keep fighting for healthy lunches.
President Obama has not been seeing better numbers in other polls either. According to Gallup's most recent poll, Obama favorable number is one point less than CNN's with 47 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable. Gallup noticed that the numbers are the president's lowest and even as his approval ratings have been consistently lower, Obama had maintained a popular persona and likeability. The Gallup poll looked at "six personal characteristics," which they broke down as follows "Americans are most likely to say Obama understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives (48%), that he is honest and trustworthy (47%), and that he is a strong and decisive leader (45%). They are less likely to say he shares their values (43%), can manage government effectively (39%), and has a clear plan for solving the country's problems (34%)." Obama can find one small glimmer of hope from the recent polls; his job performance ratings are rebounding and holding steady after months of falling. Gallup found that Obama has maintained a 44 percent approval rating and 51 percent disapproval rating since April.
- CNN/ORC International poll on presidents and first ladies favorable and unfavorable ratings, June 12, 2014
- Americans' Ratings of President Obama's Image at New Lows More view him unfavorably than favorably, Gallup, June 12, 2014
- Obama Job Approval Average Steady at 44% Early June readings suggest more of the same for this month, Gallup, June 12, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.