A Gallup poll published on June 20th shows that the only living current or former occupant of the White House who has a negative rating from the U.S. public is its current occupant, President Obama, with 52% unfavorable, 47% favorable. All others of them are favorably rated. The least favorably rated of those (the one closest to Obama in unfavorability) is George W. Bush, with 53% favorable, 44% unfavorable. His having invaded Iraq for non-existent WMD, and produced the 2008 crash, have apparently been forgiven, which is remarkable and which is due to his having increased his favorability rating from only 32% at the crash in 2008. Next-least favorably rated is Jimmy Carter, with 52% favorable, 32% unfavorable, and a remarkably high 16% “No opinion” or undecided. He has now become a rather popular former President. Next-least favorably rated, and virtually tied at the very top as being one of the two top-rated recent Presidents, is G.H.W. Bush, with 63% favorable, 31% unfavorable. That compares with Bill Clinton’s 64% favorable, 34% unfavorable. Although Clinton has a 1% edge on “favorable,” his “unfavorable” rating is 3% higher than the senior Bush’s; so: the person with the highest overall ratio of favorable/unfavorable is actually G.H.W. Bush, who is, thus, the highest-rated living current or former President.
Of course, people’s Presidential ratings are highly partisan. G.W. Bush is popular now only because 88% of Republicans rate him favorably — their post-crash disappointment with him is, in effect, gone. The only reason why G.H.W. Bush scores significantly higher overall than does G.W. Bush is that he scores far higher than “Junior” does among Democrats, only 26% of whom approve, whereas 44% of them approve of his father, G.H.W. Bush. (The latter is favorably rated by 89% of Republicans; so, Republicans give him only an insignificant 1% edge over his son.)
Whereas Republicans are now forgetting that G.W. Bush started the Iraq War and produced the economic crash, Democrats are forgetting that Bill Clinton put in place the deregulation of Wall Street that actually led to the economic crash. Forgetting is, apparently, highly partisan.
What may be especially remarkable is that other polls also show record (or near-record) low favorability ratings for all parts of the federal government, and that this low regard seems to be reflected in Obama’s favorability-rating, but not in former Presidents’. Our former Presidents seem thus to be benefiting from a nostalgia factor, which isn’t (at least as of yet) benefiting Barack Obama at all. Maybe after he is out of the White House, Americans will look back upon him, too, with nostalgia. But, if so, then we are heading into an abysmal future, and one can only wonder then why Americans have favorable regard for the very people who have been leading us there. It seems to be a puzzle. Maybe it’s part of the problem.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.