Confidence in Leaders

by David W. Moore

Record approval rating for president, Congress as Americans support war on terrorism



Key Summary Points

  • American support for government leaders shows a major rally effect after the terrorist attacks, and the surge in approval for President George W. Bush reflects the largest short-term increase in Gallup history.
  • Bush's overall job approval of 90% is the highest presidential job approval ever measured by Gallup.
  • Approval of Congress is also at a record high.
  • The vast majority of Americans approve of the way Bush and, separately, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have dealt with the terrorist attacks.
  • The public also expresses high levels of support for other government agencies and the government's ability to deal with the situation.
  • The news media receive high marks for their coverage of the events.
  • Despite these views, Americans hold some government agencies at least partially responsible for the attacks, especially the FBI and CIA.
  • In addition, almost eight in 10 Americans say airport security deserves either a great deal or moderate amount of blame.


After President George W. Bush's address to nation last week, his overall job approval jumped to 90% -- the highest ever recorded by Gallup. More generally, in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, American support for government leaders has surged, according to several polls conducted since the attacks, including three CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls -- one conducted September 11, the second September 14-15, and the most recent September 21-22. The jump in approval rating of President Bush shows the largest "rally effect" ever recorded by Gallup, and the highest rating received by any president. But the surge in positive feelings is not limited to the president. The public expresses a high level of approval for Congress, also a record, and high levels of confidence in other government leaders and agencies as well. This general rally phenomenon is also found in public sentiment about the economy and about the way things are going in the country as a whole.

Gallup polling also shows, however, that a majority of Americans each blame airport security, the CIA and the FBI for the occurrence of the terrorist attacks. A substantial minority also blames the Clinton administration, while about a third blame the Bush administration.

Bush Approval Shows Record High "Rally Effect"

At least seven polling organizations have measured Bush's job approval since the terrorist attacks, with all seven finding a major surge in approval compared with earlier polls. The September 14-15 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found a record jump in approval of the president, from 51% before the terrorist attacks to 86% afterward -- an increase of 35 percentage points. The second highest jump recorded by Gallup in the past half century was during the Gulf War, when approval of the elder President George H. W. Bush jumped by 18 percentage points after the allied attack was launched.

The current 90% rating for Bush is the highest ever measured by Gallup. The second highest, 89%, was recorded by Bush's father during the 1991 Gulf War. Another rating of the senior Bush in reaction to the Gulf War reached 87%, tying President Truman for the second highest level. Truman's high approval rating came in June 1945, after the surrender of the Germans in World War II.

George W. Bush's Job Approval Rating

A CBS News/New York Times poll over September 11-12 found 72% of Americans approving of Bush's overall job performance, while an ABC News/Washington Post poll on September 13 measured an approval rating of 86%. Separately, a CNN/Time poll on the same evening showed a somewhat lower approval of 78%, similar to the 80% approval measured by an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on September 12. A Newsweek poll over September 13-14 measured an 82% approval rating, similar to the 80% approval rating obtained by a Pew Research Center poll over the longer period of September 13-17.

Other measures of public feelings about George W. Bush, apart from his overall job approval, also show the public in support of the president. The September 14-15 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed 91% of Americans approving of the way the president is handling the events surrounding the terrorist attacks (including 68% who "strongly" and 23% who "moderately" approve). This rating is identical to the 91% approval for Bush's handling of the terrorist attacks measured by an ABC News/Washington Post poll on September 13. The Pew Research Center's poll shows 85% of Americans approving of the way Bush is handling the terrorist attacks.

In a poll on September 11, prior to Bush's nationwide address, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found 78% of Americans expressing confidence in Bush's ability to handle the situation, similar to the 76% found by the CBS News/New York Times poll on September 11-12. An Ipsos-Reid poll on September 11 showed 62% of Americans with either a "great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence in Bush.

Approval of Congress Also Up

The CNN/Time poll also found a surge in support for members of Congress, with public approval of that institution at 75% -- the highest level of approval for Congress ever measured. Going back to 1974, Gallup's measure on approval of Congress reached a high of 57% in February 1998. In April of this year, approval of Congress was at 55%, but it was down to 42% a few days before the terrorist attacks occurred.

Confidence in Other Government Agencies and Leaders, and the News Media

The September 14-15 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found 92% of Americans approving of the way New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has handled the situation in New York.

It also found that almost nine in 10 Americans have confidence in the U.S. government to protect its citizens from future attacks: 41% express "a great deal" of confidence, while another 47% say "a fair amount."

These results are similar to the confidence Americans have about catching the terrorists. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll on September 11-12, 54% of Americans say they are "very" confident that the U.S. government will be able to catch the terrorists, and another 37% say "somewhat" confident.

Americans also express high confidence in the U.S. military and to a lesser extent the FBI. According to the Ipsos-Reid poll, more than 80% of Americans say they have "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of confidence in the military. By comparison, 62% of Americans express a high level of confidence in the FBI.

The September 14-15 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found a high level of support for the news media, along with its high support for other public agencies and leaders. According to the poll, 86% of Americans said the news media have acted responsibly in the situation, while just 12% disagreed. The most positive reaction until now was in July 1999, when 75% said the media acted responsibly in reporting on the death of John F. Kennedy Jr.

The Pew Research Center poll also found widespread positive reaction to the news media, with almost nine in 10 Americans giving them a high rating. That poll shows that 56% of Americans say the news media are doing an excellent job, and another 33% say a good job, in covering the news about the attacks.

Americans Partially Blame Airports, CIA and FBI for Attacks

Although Americans overwhelmingly blame Osama bin Laden and other countries for the terrorist attacks, when asked specifically how much blame should be given to groups in the United States, they indicate that airport security was the most to blame, with 49% saying a great deal and 29% saying a moderate amount of blame.

A majority of Americans also say that some blame should be given to the CIA (59%) and the FBI (52%). To a lesser extent, Americans also blame the Clinton administration (45%) and to a much lesser extent the Bush administration (34%).

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