Politics

Americans' Retrospective Judgments of Clinton Improving

Ten-point increase in Clinton's retrospective approval rating

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup Poll finds a significant increase in Americans' judgments of Bill Clinton's performance as president, as well as significant declines in reviews of the elder George Bush. Most other recent presidents' ratings have not changed in the last four years. John F. Kennedy remains the most positively rated of the former presidents tested, while Richard Nixon gets the lowest marks.

The June 1-4 Gallup Poll asked Americans for retrospective approval ratings on all U.S. presidents since Kennedy, using the following question wording:

From what you have heard, read, or remember about some of our past presidents, please tell me if you approve or disapprove of the way each of the following handled their job as president?

The results are as follows:


Approve


Disapprove

%

%

John F. Kennedy

84

9

Ronald Reagan

71

27

Jimmy Carter

61

34

Bill Clinton

61

38

Gerald Ford

60

26

The elder George Bush,
father of the current president

56

42

Lyndon Johnson

41

41

Richard Nixon

28

65

Kennedy gets the highest retrospective approval rating, at 84%. Ronald Reagan ranks second at 71%. Roughly 6 in 10 Americans approve of the jobs Jimmy Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Gerald Ford did as president. Only two presidents do not receive net positive retrospective ratings -- Lyndon Johnson, of whom 41% approve and 41% disapprove, and Nixon, of whom just 28% approve.

When Gallup last asked this question in March 2002, just 51% approved of Clinton's performance as president, 10 points lower than his current retrospective rating. In the 2002 poll, the elder Bush's rating was 69%, which, compared with the current 56%, has declined 13 points. Most other presidents' ratings have remained stable and are within a few points of their 2002 measurements. There has been a small but statistically significant change in Nixon's evaluations -- the current 28% rating is down from 34% in 2002 and is the lowest Gallup has ever measured for him on this question, which was first asked in 1990.

Since 1990, ratings of Carter and Reagan have grown significantly more positive over time. In November 1990, just 54% approved of Reagan and 45% of Carter. The big jump in both former presidents' ratings took place between 1993 and 1999 -- Reagan's retrospective rating improved from 52% in 1993 to 71% in 1999, and Carter's improved from 45% to 69%. Carter's rating has worsened in recent years.

Retrospective Versus Actual Approval Ratings

Of the presidents measured in the survey, Kennedy had the highest average approval rating while in office at 70%, but this is not as good as his 84% retrospective rating. In addition to Kennedy, the retrospective ratings of Reagan, Clinton, Carter, and Ford are higher than their averages while in office. Bush's, Johnson's, and Nixon's retrospective approval ratings are lower than their presidency averages.

Of these eight presidents, Reagan's image has improved the most since he left office. His 71% retrospective rating is 18 percentage points higher than his 53% approval average as president.

Retrospective
approval
rating


Average
approval
rating while
in office


Difference

%

%

John F. Kennedy

84

70

+14

Ronald Reagan

71

53

+18

Jimmy Carter

61

45

+16

Bill Clinton

61

55

+6

Gerald Ford

60

47

+13

The elder George Bush

56

61

-5

Lyndon Johnson

41

55

-14

Richard Nixon

28

49

-21

Partisanship Influences Retrospective Evaluations

Party affiliation is strongly related to one's evaluations of presidents, particularly in the case of the most recent presidents. Nine in 10 Democrats say they approve of the jobs Kennedy and Clinton did as president, while 80% say this of Carter. The only Republican president who gets majority retrospective approval from Democrats is Ford, at 58%.

Ninety-seven percent of Republicans approve of Reagan's performance as president and 87% approve of Bush. Kennedy is the only Democratic president of whom a majority of Republicans approve.

Democrats

Independents

Republicans

%

%

%

John F. Kennedy

90

83

77

Ronald Reagan

45

75

97

Jimmy Carter

80

57

42

Bill Clinton

91

58

30

Gerald Ford

58

58

65

The elder George Bush

28

56

87

Lyndon Johnson

48

41

34

Richard Nixon

16

28

42

Ratings of the three most recent presidents are highly polarized. There is a 61-point gap in Republicans' and Democrats' evaluations of Clinton, a 59-point gap in ratings of Bush the elder, and a 52-point gap for Reagan. The least polarized evaluations are of Ford -- there is just a seven-point difference in Republican (65%) and Democratic (58%) evaluations of him.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,002 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 1-4, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 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.

17. From what you have heard, read, or remember about some of our past presidents, please tell me if you approve or disapprove of the way each of the following handled their job as president. How about … [RANDOM ORDER]

A. Bill Clinton

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

2006 Jun 1-4

61%

38

1

2002 Mar 18-20

51%

47

2

B. The elder George Bush, father of the current president

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jun 1-4

56

42

3

2002 Mar 18-20

69

26

5

2000 Feb 14-15 ^

74

23

3

1999 Feb 8-9 ^

76

22

2

1993 Nov 15-16 ^

58

40

2

^WORDING: George Bush

C. Ronald Reagan

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jun 1-4

71

27

2

2002 Mar 18-20

73

22

5

2000 Feb 14-15

66

32

2

1999 Feb 8-9

71

27

2

1993 Nov 15-16

52

45

3

1992 Jun 4-8

50

47

3

1990 Nov 8-11

54

44

2

D. Jimmy Carter

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jun 1-4

61

34

5

2002 Mar 18-20

60

28

12

2000 Feb 14-15

64

31

5

1999 Feb 8-9

69

27

4

1993 Nov 15-16

45

50

5

1992 Jun 4-8

48

46

6

1990 Nov 8-11

45

52

3

E. Gerald Ford

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jun 1-4

60

26

14

2002 Mar 18-20

60

19

21

2000 Feb 14-15

66

25

9

1999 Feb 8-9

71

22

7

1993 Nov 15-16

50

33

17

1992 Jun 4-8

56

29

15

1990 Nov 8-11

55

34

11

F. Richard Nixon

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jun 1-4

28

65

6

2002 Mar 18-20

34

54

12

2000 Feb 14-15

31

65

4

1999 Feb 8-9

34

63

3

1993 Nov 15-16

37

56

7

1992 Jun 4-8

35

59

6

1990 Nov 8-11

32

62

6

G. Lyndon Johnson

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jun 1-4

41

41

18

2002 Mar 18-20

39

34

27

2000 Feb 14-15

48

39

13

1999 Feb 8-9

45

45

10

1993 Nov 15-16

35

43

22

1992 Jun 4-8

35

45

20

1990 Nov 8-11

40

43

17

H. John F. Kennedy

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2006 Jun 1-4

84

9

7

2002 Mar 18-20

83

7

10

2000 Feb 14-15

86

10

4

1999 Feb 8-9

85

13

2

1993 Nov 15-16

78

13

9

1992 Jun 4-8

76

14

10

1990 Nov 8-11

84

9

7

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/23362/Americans-Retrospective-Judgments-Clinton-Improving.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030