Most Disliked President Ever?
It doesn't take a political genius to figure out why Rudolph Giuliani is complaining that the United States has been too distracted by Iraq, should do more to hunt down Osama bin Laden and needs "strong, aggressive, bold leadership like we had with Ronald Reagan." Nor is it much wonder why Mitt Romney vows to "change the course of America" and says if the Iraq strategy is not working by September, "then we'll have to take alternative strategies."
They're running, after all, not just to replace President Bush but away from President Bush. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll helps explain. While most attention focuses on approval numbers, take a look at Bush's record-high disapproval rating -- a powerful indicator that the public has not just lost faith in him but actively rejected him. In our latest poll, Bush's disapproval rating stands at 65 percent, tying the high mark he has reached twice before in the last 14 months. And 52 percent disapprove "strongly," the most ever.
That puts Bush in position to be the most disliked president in at least seven decades. In Post and Gallup polling going back to 1938, only one president has seen a higher disapproval rating than Bush and that was Richard M. Nixon, who came in at 66 percent just four days before resigning in disgrace in August 1974. Harry S. Truman once tied Bush's current disapproval rating in February 1952 in the midst of the also-unpopular Korean War.
Even Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton at their worst moments -- think Vietnam, Iranian hostages, Iran-contra and the Republican Revolution -- never reached that level of public disapproval, although George H.W. Bush came close shortly before losing reelection in 1992.
All of which is fueling the worst-ever debate that has raged on the Web. A Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University survey of political independents last spring found that 48 percent named Bush the worst president of the modern era, followed by Nixon and Carter tied at 13 percent and Clinton at 10 percent.
That's one contest Giuliani and Romney are eager to avoid.
Washington Post assistant polling director Jennifer Agiesta takes a look at the highs and lows each president has experienced since 1938.
Presidential Job Approval: The Highs*
|Date||% saying "approve"||Events|
|George W. Bush||Oct. 9, 2001||92%||One month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, President Bush achieved the highest approval rating of any president since modern polling began.|
|George H.W. Bush||Mar. 4, 1991||90%||With the ground war in Iraq less than a week old, the public was near-unanimous in its support for the president.|
|Harry S. Truman||June 5, 1945||87%||Another president buoyed by wartime success, Truman reached a peak on the eve of V-E Day.|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||Jan. 13 and 31, 1942||84%||FDR had widespread support in these Gallup polls, among the first conducted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.|
|Lyndon Johnson||Mar. 5, 1964||80%||Johnson hit his highest approval rating in early 1964, but did not dip below 70 percent approval until a year later.|
|John F. Kennedy||Mar. 13, 1962||80%||After Kennedy took office, his popularity grew for more than a year, peaking in early 1962.|
|Dwight D. Eisenhower||Dec. 19, 1956||78%||Ike's approval peaked in the post-war good times of 1956, also Elvis Presley's breakthrough year.|
|Jimmy Carter||Mar. 21, 1977||75%||Carter earned his highest approval rating two months after taking office. After a late-March approval rating of 72 percent, he never again topped 70 percent.|
|Ronald Reagan||Mar. 31 and Apr. 22, 1981||73%||Reagan's approval rating also peaked shortly after taking office, though he nearly reached a high again in mid-1986.|
|Gerald R. Ford||Aug. 19, 1974||71%||Not long after this, the first measure of Ford's approval rating, he pardoned Nixon and disapproval of his job performance rose 25 percentage points.|
|Bill Clinton||Jan. 30, 1998||69%||About a week after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, Clinton's approval rating topped out.|
|Richard Nixon||Nov. 17, 1969 and Jan. 29, 1973||67%||Nixon notched his highest approval rating twice: in the first year of his term and as ceasefire was declared in Vietnam.|
Presidential Job Approval: The Lows
|Date||% saying "disapprove"||Events|
|Richard Nixon||Aug. 5, 1974||66%||Just days before leaving office, Nixon received the most negative job approval rating recorded thus far.|
|George W. Bush||May 15, 2006, Jan. 19, 2007 and June 21, 2007||65%||Bush's disapproval rating has been above 50 percent for the past two years. No president since Truman has had such sustained negative ratings.|
|Harry S. Truman||Feb. 14, 1952||65%||Though not statistically different from Nixon's 66 percent, Truman clocked his lowest rating during the Korean War.|
|George H.W. Bush||Aug. 4, 1992||64%||Three months before losing his bid for re-election, Bush's disapproval rating peaked.|
|Jimmy Carter||July 2, 1979||59%||1979 was not Carter's best year, just a few months after being attacked by a killer rabbit,** his disapproval peaked.|
|Ronald Reagan||Jan. 22, 1983||54%||Reagan's low point hit two years into his first term, just days before a State of the Union speech outlining his plan for bringing the nation out of economic trouble.|
|Lyndon Johnson||Aug. 12, 1968||52%||A few months after deciding not to seek a second term as president, Johnson's disapproval rating rose above 50 percent for the first time during his tenure.|
|Bill Clinton||Jan. 4, 1995, Aug.-Oct. 1994 and Aug. 8, 1993||51%||Disapproval of Clinton's job performance reached a peak three times: as Newt Gingrich's Republican majority took over the House, during the Paula Jones scandal and as the debate surrounding universal health care heated up.|
|Gerald R. Ford||Apr. 21, 1975 and Nov. 24, 1975||46%||Ford never regained popularity after pardoning Nixon, but even at his lowest, around four in 10 approved of the job he was doing.|
|Franklin D. Roosevelt||Nov. 12, 1938||46%||FDR's worst rating occurred as the country was still climbing out of economic depression.|
|Dwight D. Eisenhower||Apr. 1, 1958||36%||I like Ike indeed! Even at his worst, just one-third of Americans disapproved of the job Eisenhower was doing.|
|John F. Kennedy||Sept. 17, 1963 and Nov. 13, 1963||30%||With approval ratings near sixty percent, Kennedy's worst was never very bad. His worst rating at 30 percent disapproval occurred twice in the last months of his presidency.|
*Data on presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter are from Gallup. Data on presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush are from Washington Post-ABC News polling.
**For more on Carter's killer rabbit, click here .
For more polling analysis go to Behind the Numbers.
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