Bush Approval Average at 50% in Volatile Quarter

by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup Poll Managing Editor

Tuesday marks the end of George W. Bush's 15th quarter as president. Bush hopes he will have four more years, rather than just one more quarter, in office. The prior quarter, Bush's 14th, was statistically the worst of his presidency, with an average job approval rating of 47.9%. Now, in his just-completed 15th quarter, that rating has shown modest improvement to 50.1%*.

Bush's job approval rating has shown some volatility this past quarter -- not surprising given the current highly intense political environment. At the beginning of the quarter in mid-July, 49% of Americans approved of Bush. That percentage floated above and below the 50% mark in August. In early September, right after the Republican convention nominated Bush for a second term as president, his approval rating broke above the 50% mark to 52%. It reached as high as 54% in late September, at the same time Bush enjoyed an eight-point lead over Democratic challenger John Kerry in presidential preference polling of likely voters. 

In recent weeks, during the debating phase of the campaign, Bush's approval rating dropped. This may partly be due to the public's conclusion that Kerry won all three presidential debates. It may also have resulted from the sharp focus on, and criticism of, Bush's record on issues such as the economy, Iraq, and healthcare. 

Following the first debate, which Kerry was widely considered to have won, Bush's approval rating dropped from 54% to 50%. Then following the second debate, which the public also scored for Kerry (though by a smaller margin than the first debate), Bush's approval rating fell further to 47%. However, the momentum seems to be turning in Bush's favor. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted entirely after conclusion of the third debate, shows Bush at 51% job approval. 

Historical Comparison

The following table shows how Bush's 15th quarter in office compared with other presidents:

Presidents' 15th Quarter Job Approval Averages




Number of cases





George W. Bush

Jul 20-Oct 19, 2004



Bill Clinton

Jul 20-Oct 19, 1996



George H.W. Bush

Jul 20-Oct 19, 1992



Ronald Reagan

Jul 20-Oct 19, 1984



Jimmy Carter

Jul 20-Oct 19, 1980



Richard Nixon

Jul 20-Oct 19, 1972



Dwight Eisenhower

Jul 20-Oct 19, 1956



Looking at the table, it is easy to tell which presidents were successful in winning re-election and which were not. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Dwight Eisenhower all had approval averages in excess of 54% (no data were available for Richard Nixon for the 15th quarter in 1972, though for the year he averaged 56%). Eisenhower's 68% was based on just one reading, but is in line with his previous (70.8%) and subsequent (75.7%) quarterly ratings.

The unsuccessful incumbents, Jimmy Carter and the elder George H.W. Bush, had 15th-quarter approval averages of only 35%. In fact, George H.W. Bush's untimely 35.2% 15th-quarter average was the worst of his presidency.

George W. Bush's current average is certainly closer to the winners' than the losers', but the question remains whether it will be high enough to win re-election. The 50% mark is considered the symbolic point for incumbents seeking re-election, but no prior incumbent has been as close to it as Bush currently is. 

*Based on an average of George W. Bush's presidential job approval rating in the 11 national Gallup Polls, each of approximately 1,000 adults, conducted between July 19 and Oct. 19, 2004.

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