January 12, 2016

Presidential job approval ratings from Ike to Obama

Perhaps no measure better captures the public’s sentiment toward the president than job approval. It dates back to the earliest days of public opinion polling, when George Gallup asked about Franklin D. Roosevelt starting in the 1930s:

“Do you approve or disapprove of the way ____ is handling his job as president?”

Our poll in December 2015 showed that 46% of Americans approve of Barack Obama’s job performance – a rating that’s been steady throughout 2015, and is up 4 percentage points from a year prior.

Digging deeper into job approval ratings reveals additional insights about the public’s views of its leaders. We looked at Pew Research Center data going back to Bill Clinton, and Gallup data going back to Dwight Eisenhower. These ratings reflect, for example, how views of presidents have become more politically polarized, as well as how key events in U.S. history have helped shape positive and negative views of our commanders in chief.

1Views of the president among members of the opposing party have steadily become more negative over time. Our 2014 report on political polarization documented this dramatic growth in partisan divisions over views of presidential job performance. Over the course of Obama’s presidency, his average approval rating among Democrats has been 80%, compared with just 14% among Republicans.

During Eisenhower’s two terms, from 1953 to 1960, an average of 49% of Democrats said they approved of the job the Republican president was doing in office. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, an average of 31% of Democrats approved of his job performance. And just over a quarter (27%) of Republicans offered a positive assessment of Clinton between 1993 and 2000. But the two most recent presidents – George W. Bush and Obama – have not received even this minimal level of support.

Polarization and presidential approval: supporters stay loyal, opposition intensifies

2Obama's job rating higher than Bush's, below Clinton's, on par with Reagan's at similar points of presidencyObama’s 46% job approval in December placed him between George W. Bush (30%) and Bill Clinton (55%) at similar points in their second terms in late 2007 and 1999, respectively. It was also comparable to Reagan’s rating of 49% in December 1987.

3High-profile presidential scandals don’t always cause huge or lasting drops in public approval. Clinton first reached his all-time high job approval of 71% in our February 1998 poll, amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Clinton again reached the 71% mark in our late December 1998 poll, after his impeachment by the House of Representatives. Reagan’s approval rating dropped to 49% in January 1987 during the Iran-Contra scandal, but he left office two years later with a 63% rating.

But Richard Nixon’s approval declined steadily throughout the Watergate scandal. His rating reached a high of 68% in January 1973, following his re-election, but plummeted to a low of 24% by the time he left office in August 1974.

Highs and lows of presidential approval

4The presidents with the starkest gaps between their highs and lows in job approval are George W. Bush and his father. George W. Bush’s 86% high came soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a moment of national unity. But near the end of his presidency in 2008, his approval fell to a low of 22%. The elder Bush’s approval reached a high of 89% in March 1991, following military action led by the U.S. to reverse Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait; his low rating of 29% came in August 1992. But his approval rating rebounded to 56% by the time he left office in January 1993.

Note: This is an update to a post originally published on Feb. 16, 2015.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Political Polarization, Presidential Approval, U.S. Political Figures

  1. is an associate digital producer at Pew Research Center.

  2. is a research assistant focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.

55 Comments

  1. Lowell Burns6 months ago

    I would attribute the results of this Pew poll to the dumbing-down of America the demise or decline in patriotism in the rise of liberalism and a complete movement away from the church Christian attitude and a result of liberal education system and inclusion of low intelligence low information public

  2. Anonymous7 months ago

    It is always better to look at the assessments of Foreign experts, or at least American Independents.

  3. Jerome Stoll7 months ago

    Funny! My opinion of each of these people did not change over a long time. As an example, I supported Obama from day one and still do. I disliked and did not trust Bush, Jr. from day one. I wonder who these people are? Do they just flow with the wind of change and never look back?

    1. Andrew McLeish6 months ago

      Funny, Obama has given us 1.4% GDP growth-the third worst of all presidents ever, the most poor ever, the most failed small business in at least 35 years, the most on food stamps ever, the least amount of people working since 1977, added 22,200 new regulations killing small businesses and full time jobs; truly a miserable record. Where do people like you come from? You ignore real results and blindly support one of the worst presidents ever, unbelievable.

      1. Anonymous6 months ago

        Really. When this president took office we were headed for a depression but, threw his effort and the obstruction of congress that did not occur.
        Job were being lost before his predicency. I lost a 70+ paying job when Bushwhacker was in office.

        .

  4. Ted LeMoine7 months ago

    It’s become harder to raise your approval rating recently due to increased partisanship and the media people tend to watch mirrors their views and cements what they already beleive. At the same time Obama has an 80% rating with democrats, his rating with republicans is in the teens? Some very clear obstruction by the Republicans in recent years. I used to be one and then saw the light. I haven’t seen it change. Both sides need to work together for the best future of the American people. Supreme court blocking and government shutdown have not made the GOP look good. Without taking either side it seems the GOP plays more partisan politic games

  5. Paul Lukasiak11 months ago

    To me, the most remarkable thing about this chart is how Obama’s FIRST Republican approval ratings were well below Clinton’s FINAL approval ratings. While it was obvious intuitively from the day that Obama took office that the GOP’s mission was to destroy Obama, and not work with him, its good to see that intuition confirmed.

    The other thing that I find notable is that, since the 1980s, Democrats have been far more likely to give Republicans the “benefit of a doubt” than vice versa. We saw this in the attacks on Clinton before he even took office on issues like “gays in the military”, and the clear contempt that the GOP had for Obama’s efforts at inclusion and compromise in his first years. Democrats were more inclined to give Republicans a “honeymoon” for Reagan, and both Bush’s.

  6. John Carter Angell M.Ed.1 year ago

    As someone born in 1948 and a college student from middle 1960- grad school end 1972 in Boston from a family with a New England heritage from 1636- every president starting with Kennedy – Obama lost 100% of my trust ! The only president I still trust is Eisenhower! EVERYBODY ELSE 0%!
    Politically I am middle of the road- sometimes lean to the left of center and sometimes lean to the right of center! I Trust NO party machine! Today ALL politicians of both party are bought and sold to the highest bidder and forget the middle class!

  7. Carol1 year ago

    Maybe Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton were just better Presidents than Bush and Obama so the opposition might give more approval.

  8. Jackie Tomlin2 years ago

    As always individuals have tried to explain the numbers away to suit their own agendas instead of looking as these figures objectively. History is history and that is that.

  9. Jon2 years ago

    Funny how people only focus on the highs. If you look at the lows – Obama has had the highest-low since Kennedy. Does having an 89% approval rating when you first entered office mean anything when you LEAVE office with a 22% rating?

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      Yes because it determines your overall impact. If you leave office with a low approval rating that means you did a bad job.

  10. Timbo timbo2 years ago

    this poll doesn’t account for an enormous decline in literacy, education and intelligence of americans today. nearly half the people in this country are not smart enough to read/write English or wash there hands after using the toilet. this poll is therefore a total waste. thanks for trying to color what’s actually going on and who really feels what about it. this type of work is a major part of the problem in America today.

    1. Phil Evans6 months ago

      As we live in the most educated generation ever, but who cares right?

    2. Anonymous6 months ago

      I agree most young rolls don’t know who won the civil war, what it was about. And the worst when asked what country’s fought most said they were not taught that in school. Black and white

  11. Marie2 years ago

    Would really love to see how news consumption is tied to this. The way media has been shaping politics over the years, it likely has connection to these results.

  12. Michael2 years ago

    Media bias today is at an all time high. The polls just prove it works.

  13. Edward P Gilmartin2 years ago

    President Obama has that concrete core support that thinks he is doing a good job no matter what is happening….low information folks mostly

    1. Ltabin1 year ago

      On the button Edward. OBAMA also has 90% of media as his base. I think more and more people are LIVs because the media is so profoundly one sided.

      They don’t have a peep about illegal immigration which threatens are very sovereignty. Are they stupid? You bet

      1. Paul Lukasiak11 months ago

        right — that explains why people who get their info from FoxNews and right wing websites consistently score lower when asked basic factual questions regarding current events.

        If there is a “mainstream media” bias, its toward “reality”, and as we all know, the facts have a well known liberal bias.

  14. Tim Kirtland2 years ago

    I might be completely mistaken, but haven’t President Reagan’s approval ratings been higher than 68%? I mean at the very least, he had to have been approved much more by the American public than Nixon was at his peak. I personally don’t agree with all of his policies, but I do recognize that he was fairly well respected during much of his presidency – and not just by Republicans. To this day, most Republicans and many independents consider Reagan to be one of, if not the, best U.S. president ever to have been elected. Yeah I know he had plenty of opposition from the left, but from what I remember, most people were ok with him while he was in office. So how come he never got an approval rating higher than 68%? Am I just remembering things wrong? Or did perhaps Democrats and liberals really hate him THAT much?

    1. Steve2 years ago

      68% seems low because republicans have turned him into a god. There is no way he could live up to the greatness they have bestowed upon him.

    2. phil1 year ago

      No , Reagan wasn’t as popular as some people think, he had many scandals during his terms, it’s just that politics in the eighties were alot more respectful, we didn’t have fox news and rush Limbaugh yet, when those two appeared politics have become more viral, no respect from either side anymore ,although the republicans are worse than the democracts, a very hateful party it has become

    3. Leslie Gomez7 months ago

      I agree. I remember Reagan as being a pretty popular President. 68% seems very low

  15. Manoj2 years ago

    Nice and very informative article.
    It would be nice to know the relations between USA and China Russia and Middle East
    As significant violent attitude started emerging in Muslim community from almost 1990
    Onwards. Was it due to policy changes in Afghanistan, Middle East as terrorist outfits started in Asia and later in Africa and culminated in 2001 on Twin towers.
    US policies on China, Russia, Middle East and Afghanistan of 1990 to 2010 has taken certain shift.
    A study on this along with its impact on US economy could be a eye opening in judging the US presidents poll values.

  16. Jack T.2 years ago

    I’m almost 70, but Obama is the first president who was getting vicious attacks from the other side even before he was sworn in. I’d never seen that to the extent it happened to him. What was the reason?
    Did the right believe he had some nefarious scheme to turn us into a socialist country?
    Hardly. What he did have was a plan to challenge the status quo – a situation where the rich get richer at the expense of the rest of us.
    No, the Republicans feared a shift away from the oligarchy that exists today. The data on this are shocking.
    They feared him because he threatened to support the average citizen at the expense of the super rich. It was all about money and money only.

    1. Jack2 years ago

      He’s also the only president who said he was going to take this country in another direction. And don’t forget the famous “they cling to their guns and religion”. What was his plan for the other half of America? Maybe sew elephants on their coats and put them somewhere. Obama could have been America’s Mandela but he just couldn’t let his prejudices go. He reaped what he’s sown.

      1. Helen2 years ago

        Your comment is exactly the reason why there is little hope in the changes, we as a species, worldwide, need to make, to not only survive, but to elevate us to the next level of humanity. Change on any ideas that start new dialogues toward relevancy for the 21st century and beyond is a good thing. It is necessary to look at where “guns and religion” has gotten us and discuss how they may hinder us to move to higher operating level as a species. Humans have such a fear of looking at culture and tradition to the point that the majority of us don’t even realize that that is why we continue to function with cave men mentalities in an emerging technological age. However, most Americans agree with you, as well as those worldwide. And that will be our undoing.

        1. rollerdad1 year ago

          A true leader leads the discussion. The whole reason why approval ratings matter so significantly is that a leader with high approval ratings has power. The power to lead the American people and congress into a discourse about issues. When a leader has low approval ratings, then the opposing party has no regret, no feeling of consequence when they oppose the leaders’ vision or direction. What we have now, in Obama, is a very weak leader (44% approval), who has no power to pull in anyone on the right, continues to divide to keep his base and the left on his side, and, as a result, MUST use the pen and phone to rule as a king since he leads no discussion and has no power to gain any bipartisan support. He uses the courts and federal agencies to rule & regulate in his favor instead of gaining support for his ideas through congress, and, in essence with the American people.

          1. Citizen1 year ago

            You are correct, a true leader leads the discussion. The problem that this president has run into is an unwillingness of people to listen. When the Republican leadership, under Boehner, meet in a room and all take a pact to not work with the president at all, it would be hard for anybody to get anything done. Since Obama took office, the Congresses that convened during that time have gotten the least amount of work done in the history of our nation!!! To an extent it is the leader’s responsibility, but after a while it gets a little ridiculous. Do the job you were elected to do, not the job your campaign contributors paid you to do.

      2. IntelligenceisAVirtue1 year ago

        Are you angry that someone couldn’t rise above petty politics and outright hate as well as Mandela did? Way to set the bar impossibly high.

    2. Really?2 years ago

      Really? I think you force yourself under a rock, because no matter whether a R or D president take office the opposing political networks will always attack them… 24 hour news networks aren’t in the business of news, they are in the business of ratings and to get ratings they cater to their political sides fears and hate.

    3. Andy Libertarian.1 year ago

      You think Obama is NOT all about Money and the Uber-Rich???
      He’s being propped up by Millions from the Uber-Rich Liberals, and he Campaigns ceaselessly, even after no longer being up for Election…remember all those $25,000-a-plate dinners?

      He also declined Public Funds, because he could get more from Wall St…and let’s not forget WHO bailed out Wall St Banks…I wonder if their Millions in contributions to his Campaign had anything to do with that??????

  17. Wes Mac2 years ago

    Very intriguing set of data. Thank you George Gao. Interesting that Republican icon Ronald Reagan has very similar ratings with Richard Nixon, neither ever surpassing 68% top rating. Also amazing is that Barack Obama has held respectable numbers despite having virtually no Republican support.

    1. Hi there1 year ago

      Hi there, I just wanted to point out your obvious bias by pointing out that 35 is closer to 41 than it is to 21, and that 68 is higher than 64. Yet you say that Obama held respectable numbers and negate any similarity with Reagans numbers by failure of implication. Your abilities of deduction have eluded you.

  18. HillRunner2 years ago

    The (excellent!) graphs make clear that conservative media actively spread disrespect and disrepute against Johnson, Carter, Clinton and Obama.

    Yet the graph’s lowest points prove the deepest and most successful vituperation comes from left of the aisle, and has been most effectively directed against Nixon, Reagan, GHW and GW Bush.

    I’d offer the thesis that one _contributing_ factor is the rise of “fake news” comedy shows (Jon Stewart, SNL, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher) who captured and convinced the reading-phobic 18 to 30 demographic with very clever but unjust barbs at anyone right of center. True, these comedians also skewered Democrats, but not with as much wit, frequency or obvious relish.

    1. Isaiah2 years ago

      Yeah, it was totally the left that took down Nixon. Dirty hippies! Not at all the fact that he was a criminal presiding over a very divisive period in our history.

      I agree with you that there has been a widening partisan gap in the past 50 years. It seems that Clinton’s gap and W’s gap appear similar to one another, for instance, but far larger than the Eisenhower/JFK gap from 50 years earlier.

      That said, I don’t know how you’re drawing your anti-left conclusion based on the information presented in this graph. It seems to me the only President never even given a chance by the opposing side has been Barack Obama. Even W was posting good numbers for a time, before dropping to Nixon-like stats after the bank crash and the disaster that was/is Iraq.

      As for the role of media in this, that’s not in any of the data — this is only about results, not causes. And in any case, if and when the Democrats operate an administration as “absurd” (Stewart’s word) as the W administration, I fully expect the Daily Show et al will give them their well-deserved come-uppance. Perhaps the comedy feels unjust to you because of your own political leanings, but when a man apologizes for getting shot in the face, that’s going to get mocked, and that’s fair. When the President makes a show of landing a plane on an aircraft carrier in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner, that’s going to get mocked, and that’s fair. When an entire major city is more or less destroyed by a hurricane and the unqualified political appointee who bungled the response is told he did a “heckofa job” then that’s going to get mocked, and that will be fair.

    2. TC2 years ago

      Studies have shown that those who watch Colbert and Stewart learn more true facts and news than those who watch the news. Reality just has that liberal bias 🙂

      1. Socratic Method1 year ago

        And which studies would those be exactly?
        Who sponsored the study?
        What was their data source and sample size?
        What shows were they being compared to?

        And for the record, this isn’t me liberal bashing, I get just as annoyed when conservatives do it too.

    3. IntelligenceisAVirtue1 year ago

      Except Bush had high approval ratings form Democrats after 9/11, then he earned those low approval numbers. Republicans have had a negative opinion of Obama since before he was sworn in. I read, the barbs are just.

  19. Patrick Venton2 years ago

    I observe that professionally orchestrated degradation by both parties has had a polarizing effect with the voters, or the middle people are just too fed up with the polarized venting to even voice an opinion .

  20. Jhay702 years ago

    I had not recalled that BushII’s approval rating was lower than Nixon’s and way below Obama.
    The Republicans must be smoking something to ignore these figures and Guilliani surely has no concept about what he sees accusing Obama of not loving America. These figures are very eye-opening. hay

  21. Peter Damian Levy2 years ago

    Interesting that BO is the only one who has never had as much as 25% approval from the other side, and that his average rating by Republicans is so much lower than any other president’s from the opposite side.

    Is this simply a continuation of the trend to polarization? Is there something about BO that makes Republicans less likely to approve of him?

    1. Dave M2 years ago

      It could be because his plan or agenda was so different than what the republicans want.
      Or it could be his race which is what I wonder if you are hinting at.

      1. Gerry Gentile11 months ago

        I suspect that the only group who cares about his race is the African-American community. The rest of us voted for him because we saw him as a man of character.

        Barack Obama’s only mistake–and it was a fatal one–is that when the extremists started hijacking the Republican Party, and refusing to work with anyone they saw as liberal (i.e. not extremist right enough), he gave them a pass. What he should have been doing is calling them out, very publicly every time they refused to work with America. I guarantee that if he had been doing that from the beginning they wouldn’t have gained as much power as they have to polarize this country.

        1. Anonymous6 months ago

          Gerry, your suspicion, as it relates to the African American communities reason for voting for President Obama, was more so on his race, than on his policies, message, trustworthiness, desire to work across the isle and passion to govern ALL Americans, and the fact that he was a constitutional lawyer, may have some merit. However, I get the impression that you are implying that ALL black people voted for him because he was black and it had nothing to do with more then that fact. That is patently untrue.
          Like in any election, there are people who vote for reasons outside of a candidates political positions or proposed policies, such as gender, likability, connection, and yes, ethnicity. I am sure ther were an equal amount of white people who didn’t vote for him, because he was black. This I am sure you can agree with, bigotry and racism still exist in this country.
          Being an African American myself, and having spoken to African Americans, Whites, Hispanics, and Latino, men and women, young and old, prior to both elections of Obama, there were some who didn’t care about his policies, but a lot more who did. Unfortunately, that’s become the norm when you are dealing with party politics, under a two party system, and you want your side to win.
          So, please understand that, “the rest of you”, who voted for Obama, whether black, white, or other group, did so for the same reasons those, not like you, voted for him too.

    2. Mac Hayes2 years ago

      The bigger question for me is, what is there about BO that makes even Democrats less approving of him than of Bill Clinton?

    3. Raymond Segorski2 years ago

      Peter, I can only speak for my circle of conservative friends and myself. For us, both the democratic party and Obama represent a ideology that is evermore extreme politically. Our sense is that, as they pull America further and further into socialism, we see less and less of the United States as founded and more and more oppression of the personal liberties that were cherished and thought preserved by the founding documents.

      Given this view of President Obama, I am honestly surprised that he ever received a 25% approval rating from republicans.

      1. Joko2 years ago

        President Franklin D. Roosevelt lead the institution of Social Security and Medicare in the United States. Lyndon Johnson expanded these programs, and helped to solidify Medicaid. What President Obama wishes to implement further is not new. It represents a continuation of our trends towards general equality. Truth be told, our personal liberties have not been affected by the current administration any more than in the previous ones since WWII. The idea that all citizens should have access to health insurance, expanded child care benefits, and adequate safety nets is one that we can indeed afford.

        And the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act does not constitute socialism. A national health plan (such as what can be found in the United Kingdom) may, depending on how rigid you are with definitions. But the PPACA aims to provide most people with private insurance aided with tax credits.

      2. Spork2 years ago

        Raymond, I think the idea that he is “pulling America further and further” into socialism is largely political theater orchestrated by an ever more partisan drawn districts (in the 80s gerrymandering was more successfully orchestrated by Democrats, now many Markov models have shown the Republicans are the best gamers of the system) and therefore representatives, and a media that is slowly dying (median age of viewer just hit 50 years old) and trying to save itself by giving voice to the juvenile whining of both sides of the aisle, though lately centered in the Republican party. If you look at tax rate history you’ll see that taxes during one of the most booming time in history (WW2) were as high as 94% for the top bracket, a top bracket that has spiraled downward through many years. Right now our taxes are some of the lowest they’ve ever been, especially for the wealthy.
        I don’t think it’s because he’s socialist, I think it’s plain and simple because he is black

        1. Socratic Method1 year ago

          I’m curious why everyone immediately plays the race card when it comes to Barrack Obama’s approval rating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some people don’t like him because he’s black. I’m sure some people didn’t like the other candidates because they were white. But to blame it all on race sure seems like a cop out. Especially when there appears to be a pretty solid historical trend in the widening of the gap between Dems and Repubs. To me, blaming race without real proof just seems like lazy research. If anything, I suspect the media has far more to do with the gap than anything. Regardless of whether they’re right or left leaning, they all seem far more interested in stirring things up as opposed to just reporting the facts and letting people draw their own conclusions.

      3. Helen2 years ago

        Okay, please list all the oppression of the personal liberties that were cherished and thought preserved by the founding documents that we have lost during the Obama admiration,

        I am so ignorant of what is on the list that I welcome enlightenment from all of you who know what I don’t. Help me out folks!

  22. Moses Foy2 years ago

    This was fun to compare the formal presdents:-)

  23. JD Meyer2 years ago

    Wonderful article. I’m not surprised that much but saddened. I’m one of those Democrats who like Ike even though I wasn’t born until 1959.

    1. Jack T.2 years ago

      Yes, Ike was the first president I was aware of. The more I learn, the better I like him.