Politics

Will the Inauguration Boost Bush?

Presidential inaugurations are grand scenes in American political life: A popularly elected president takes the oath of office in a public ceremony with the majestic Capitol as the backdrop. Such a prominent event could heal political divisions that could have emerged during the election, and generate a rally in support for the president. Indeed, most new presidents begin their first terms in office with a honeymoon period of high job approval ratings. But what about presidents who were re-elected? Do their second-term inaugurations bring about a boost in support? 

A review of historical Gallup job approval data suggests that typically, re-elected presidents do not see their job approval ratings rise following their inaugurations. The one apparent exception to this pattern was Richard Nixon in 1973, though his spike in public support probably resulted from the end of U.S. military action in Vietnam rather than the beginning of his second term as president. Of the five most recent two-term presidents, Nixon is the only one who saw his approval rating significantly increase after taking the oath of office a second time. 

President

Pre-inauguration
approval rating

Dates of
pre-inauguration poll

Post-inauguration
approval rating

Dates of post-inauguration
poll

Eisenhower

79%

Dec 14-19, 1956

73%

Jan 17-22, 1957

Johnson

71%

Jan 7-12, 1965

70%

Jan 28-Feb 2, 1965

Nixon

51%

Jan 12-15, 1973

67%

Jan 26-29, 1973

Reagan

62%

Jan 11-14, 1985

64%

Jan 25-28, 1985

Clinton

62%

Jan 10-13, 1997

60%

Jan 30-Feb 2, 1997

Bush

52%

Jan 7-9, 2005

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The impact of the inauguration on approval ratings can be better understood by looking at the historical approval ratings for presidents between Election Day and Inauguration Day. The lack of a post-inauguration bounce may be attributed to the fact that some presidents already received a bounce in approval after being re-elected, and the data still show most two-term presidents started out their second terms at or near their term highs.

Dwight Eisenhower

Eisenhower had high approval ratings upon being re-elected, in excess of 70%. His approval ratings remained in the 70% range in the period between his re-election and his second inauguration, although it showed some decay after reaching 79% -- the high point in his presidency -- in December 1956. 

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Lyndon Johnson

Like Eisenhower, Johnson had high approval ratings upon re-election, with roughly 7 in 10 Americans giving him a positive review. His approval ratings were quite stable from November 1964 until early February 1965, ranging from 69% to 71%. 

Richard Nixon

As noted, Nixon received a large boost in his approval rating coinciding with his second inauguration.  However, in between the two January 1973 Gallup measurements, the United States suspended military action in North Vietnam (on Jan. 15) and signed the Paris Peace Accords that ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (on Jan. 27). Nixon's approval rating had begun to slide following his re-election, from 62% in a Nov. 11-14 poll to 59% in a Dec. 8-11 poll and finally 51% in the Jan. 12-15 poll after the 1972 Christmas bombings. 

Ronald Reagan

Of the recent two-term presidents, Reagan clearly showed a rise in support following his re-election, though it was a gradual change that began well before the inauguration. Just before winning a second term in office, 58% of Americans approved of his job as president. That climbed into the 60s in November (before dipping to 59% in December). After inauguration, his approval rating inched up to 64%, one of the highest individual measurements of the Reagan presidency (the high was 68% in May 1981 and again in May 1986). 

Bill Clinton

Clinton's pattern mirrors that of Reagan. Immediately after being re-elected, Clinton's approval rating jumped from 54% to 58%, where it remained until early January 1997. In a Jan. 10-13 poll, Clinton's job score rose to 62%, which at that time was the highest of his presidency, before falling back slightly to 60% after Inauguration Day. 

Bottom Line

Despite the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day, the event itself seems to have little measurable impact on a president's public support. Likely because presidents (at least recent ones) have tended to get a post-election bounce, with the ceremonies of Inauguration Day providing little additional boost, especially considering that most recent two-term presidents were enjoying some of their highest approval ratings when they began their second terms in office. 

George W. Bush is starting out with a lower approval rating (52%) than some of his predecessors, and has already gotten a post-election bounce. Unlike other recent two-term presidents, Bush is actually starting his second term with an approval rating that rates among the lowest of his presidency. Based on history, one would not expect the coming inauguration ceremonies to change that.
Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/14653/Will-Inauguration-Boost-Bush.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030