Laura Bush Approval Ratings Among Best for First Ladies

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Most would not support a Senate bid for her

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- While her husband George W. Bush struggles to improve his low job approval ratings, Laura Bush remains a very popular first lady. Her current job approval ratings are among the most positive ratings Gallup has recorded for a first lady. But her high level of popularity may not translate into political support should she seek public office. Most Americans say they would not like to see her run for the U.S. Senate.

A Jan. 20-22 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds 82% of Americans approving and just 13% disapproving of the job Laura Bush is doing as first lady. Last year, she had a similar 85% rating, and she had a solid 74% rating in July 2003 when she was first rated.

Gallup has asked the public to evaluate most of the first ladies at least one time during their tenures in the White House. In general, Americans give positive marks to first ladies, but Laura Bush's scores are among the best Gallup has measured.

For example, Hillary Rodham Clinton averaged a 64% approval rating while she was first lady, ranging from a low of 54% in January 1995, to a high of 80% in February 1999.

Other first ladies' approval ratings tended to be in the 50% range; these lower ratings were due in part to the fact that many Americans did not have opinions of first ladies when asked to rate them. Nancy Reagan had a 53% approval rating in May 1988, with 31% disapproving and 16% having no opinion. In April 1987, and December 1981, her approval ratings were 58% and 57%, respectively. Rosalynn Carter had a 59% approval rating the one time she was rated in August 1979. Pat Nixon had a 54% approval rating in a June 1969, poll. Gallup also asked about Eleanor Roosevelt twice during Franklin Roosevelt's administration. She received a 67% approval rating in 1938, and a 68% rating in 1940.

It is not uncommon for first ladies to have higher approval ratings than those of their husbands, likely because the husbands' roles are more political and controversial in nature versus a more ceremonial role for the first ladies. Hillary Clinton's 64% approval average compares with Bill Clinton's 55% average rating while in office. When Rosalynn Carter had a 59% approval rating in 1979, her husband Jimmy Carter was at 32%. The current president's 43% rating compares with his wife's 82%.

While each key demographic group holds an overall positive view of the way Laura Bush is handling her job, opinions vary by party affiliation. Ninety-seven percent of Republicans approve of Bush as first lady, compared with 81% of independents and 69% of Democrats. There are no significant gender differences -- 83% of men and 81% of women approve.

In addition to evaluating the way Laura Bush is handling her job, Gallup periodically asks the public to give their more basic opinions of her. When last measured in December 2005, 73% of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of her, 13% had an unfavorable opinion, and 14% did not have an opinion either way.

Since George W. Bush took office, Laura Bush's favorable ratings have always been positive, ranging from a low of 63% in August 2004, to a high of 80% in February 2005. Prior to his taking office, her favorable ratings were lower, mainly because one-third to over one-half of Americans said they did not have an opinion of her.

Laura Bush's favorable ratings are a little less positive than those of her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, while she was first lady from 1989 to 1993. During that time, Gallup obtained favorable ratings for Barbara Bush of 86% in January 1989, and 85% in January 1993. [NOTE: Gallup did not obtain an approval rating for Barbara Bush while she was first lady.]

Laura Bush for Senate?

Despite her popularity, most Americans would not like to see Laura Bush run for Senate. That suggestion was made by an audience member at a recent speech by the president, who then said that his wife was not interested in running for office. The poll finds 40% of Americans saying they would like to see Laura Bush run for the Senate someday, but 53% would not.

Those numbers are fairly similar to what Gallup found when it asked about Hillary Rodham Clinton running for the Senate in 1999 -- 44% wanted to see her run, 47% did not.

A majority of Republicans, 61%, would like to see Laura Bush run for Senate, while only 38% of independents and 22% of Democrats concur. Women (45%) are somewhat more supportive of a Bush Senate bid than are men (35%).

The partisan breakouts for Hillary Clinton's possible Senate bid were quite similar, although in the opposite direction with 65% of Democrats, 41% of independents, and 25% of Republicans in favor. Fifty percent of women, compared with 38% of men, supported a Clinton Senate run in 1999.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with randomly selected national samples of approximately 500 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 20-22. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

16. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Laura Bush is handling her job as first lady?

BASED ON 506 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM A

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jan 20-22 ^

82

13

6

2005 Jan 7-9

85

8

7

2003 Jul 18-20

74

9

17

^ Asked of a half sample

17. There has been some discussion of first lady Laura Bush possibly running for the Senate. Would you personally like to see Laura Bush run for the Senate, or not?

BASED ON 500 NATIONAL ADULTS IN FORM B

Yes, run

No, not run

No opinion

2006 Jan 20-22 ^

40%

53

7

^ Asked of a half sample

Trend for Comparison

Hillary Rodham Clinton: There has been some discussion of Hillary Rodham Clinton possibly running for the Senate in New York next year. Would you personally like to see Hillary Clinton run for the Senate in New York, or not?

Yes, run

No, not run

No opinion

1999 May 23-24

44

47

9

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