President Obama’s public approval rating has been around 44%, down significantly from his starting approval of 62%. To be fair, Obama still has about seven months left in office, so his approval rating is far from final. But few presidents leave the White House more popular than when they entered. So how does Obama stack up to the modern presidents when it comes to popularity?
Using data from Real Clear Politics and the Roper Center, InsideGov found the average approval ratings for the modern U.S. presidents (FDR onward). Barack Obama stands at #10, with his average Approval Rating hovering around 47.46%. President Obama assumed office under challenging circumstances. The U.S. had troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economy was in a full-on recession. Obama’s approval ratings recovered slightly after his re-election, but fell to a new low following the 2013 government shutdown. His highest approval rating was 63%, in Feb. 2009, and his lowest approval rating was 39%, in Nov. 2013.
John F. Kennedy has been ranked as #1 with an average Approval Rating of 70.53%. Kennedy served in office for 2.8 years. His approval rating never fell below 55% during that time. Although he assumed office during a period of racial unrest and international instability, the young president from Massachusetts used his charisma and idealism to win over the public.
Following Kennedy is Dwight D. Eisenhower at #2 with an average Approval Rating of 64.9%. Eisenhower’s approval ratings remained fairly strong during his first term, never dipping below 50%. Although his popularity took a hit during his second term, Eisenhower still left office with the majority of Americans supporting him.
Franklin D. Roosevelt came a close #3 with his average Approval Ratings at 64.49%. Approval ratings were only polled for the last seven years of Roosevelt’s presidency. During this time, FDR’s approval rating never fell below 50%, as he navigated the end of the Great Depression and World War II.
George H. W. Bush comes as 4th most popular president with his average Approval Ratings hovering around 60.1%. Bush gained popularity for his focus on foreign policy. The American public largely supported the end of the Cold War and Bush’s approval ratings spiked to a new high following the Persian Gulf War. By the end of his presidency, Bush struggled to deal with a slow economy and lost re-election to Bill Clinton.
Harry Truman is the least popular of all the recent Presidents in history ranking at #13, and having an average Approval Rating of 42.6%. Truman’s popularity mostly fell due to the Korean War and high inflation. Interestingly, history has been kinder to Truman, with polls consistently ranking him as one of the 10 best presidents.
Gerald Ford stands at #12 with his ratings of 45.78%. Public support for Ford dissipated when he pardoned Richard Nixon a month into his presidency. Although he left office with a climbing approval rate, Ford was still unable to win re-election.
Jimmy Carter with his average Approval Rating of 45.78% comes at #11. Remarkably, Jimmy Carter ties with Ford, with an average approval rating of 45.78%. Carter entered the White House on a wave of popularity, promising to steer Washington away from the scandal-filled presidencies of Ford and Nixon. However, Carter was soon overwhelmed by high inflation, an energy crisis, war in Afghanistan and a hostage situation in Iran.
Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush is slightly above him at #9 with his average Approval Rating of 47.48%. Bush’s approval rating jumped after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but quickly plummeted in the following months. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the onset of the Great Recession, prevented Bush’s popularity from rising again.
Richard Nixon stands at #8 with his average Approval Rating being 49.89%. Nixon’s approval ratings were fairly high for the majority of his presidency. That changed after the Watergate Scandal broke. Nixon currently has the lowest exit approval rating of any U.S. president at 24%.
Ronald Reagan is #7 with his average Approval Rating of 52.84%. Although Reagan ranks as the seventh most popular president in terms of approval ratings, his presidency has been more favorably viewed in history. In fact, in a 2013 Gallup poll, Reagan scored as the second best modern U.S. president, only behind JFK. Reagan’s lowest approval rating occurred in the midst of an economic recession in the early 80s.
Lyndon B. Johnson is ranked at #6, with an average Approval Rating of 54.75%. Following JFK’s assassination, Johnson was abruptly thrust into the presidency. Johnson’s popularity remained above 50% during his first two years in the White House, but then declined more sharply with the beginning of the Vietnam War and civil unrest in the U.S.
Bill Clinton is #5 with his average Approval Rating of 54.8%. Unlike most presidents, Clinton’s approval ratings actually increased over his presidency. Although his popularity took a hit after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in 1998, Clinton still left office with a higher approval rating than when he started.