Bush Approval: First Quarter in Review

by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup Poll Managing Editor

April 19 marked the end of George W. Bush's 27th month as president, and his ninth quarter in office. The quarter was an eventful one for him, marked by controversy over proposed military action in Iraq prior to the start of the war on March 19. The war caused a surge in Bush's approval ratings, and that rally persists today.

In this latest quarter, Bush averaged a 63.3% approval rating, very similar to his previous quarterly average of 63.5%. The average rating of 63.3% places 63rd out of 229 presidential quarters for which Gallup has measurements, dating back to the Truman presidency. This places the most recent quarter in the top 27% of quarters during this period.

However, examining the overall quarterly average obscures the shift over two distinct phases of Bush's last quarter: the pre-war phase, in which Bush averaged 58.8% job approval, and the war phase, in which he averaged 70.1%.

Father and Son Wartime Presidents

Bush's 13-point surge in approval from pre-war to wartime is one of the larger rally events in Gallup's polling history. However, it is smaller than the 18-point increase his father, George H.W. Bush, received at the start of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Unlike his father, though, the current president has not received any additional bounce from the successful conclusion (or in this case, near-conclusion) of the military effort in Iraq. The elder Bush's 80% wartime approval rating increased to 89% at war's end, while the younger Bush's rating has remained steady around the 70% mark, even after the fall of Baghdad and the conclusion of major fighting in Iraq.

In one respect -- post-war ratings of his handling of the economy -- the current president is much better positioned than his father was after the first Gulf War. Currently, 49% of Americans approve and 45% disapprove of the way Bush is handling the economy. In March 1991, only 37% of Americans approved of the elder Bush's handling of the economy, despite an overall approval rating of 87% and a foreign affairs approval rating of 79%. The senior Bush's perceived inattention to the sluggish economy in 1991 is a crucial reason why he went from an 80%-plus approval rating in early 1991 to being defeated for re-election just 20 months later.

George W. Bush's Record to Date

For his term in office so far, Bush has averaged a 68.6% approval rating. This would rate as the second-best term (and presidency) average behind John F. Kennedy's 70.1% from 1961-1963. Dwight Eisenhower's 69.5% for 1953-1957 is the highest a president has averaged for a full four-year term since Gallup began regularly tracking approval ratings with the Truman presidency.

Throughout his presidency, Bush has been rated more positively for his handling of foreign affairs than for his handling of the economy, but his averages on both compare favorably to those of other recent presidents. In fact, despite a struggling economy throughout his term in office, Bush's 56.8% average economic approval rating is higher than that of Bill Clinton (51.7%) and Ronald Reagan (45.6%), both of whom served part of their terms in office during good economic times. Bush's average foreign affairs approval rating of 63.2% is bested only by his father's 65.3% average. Bush's ratings on both of these measures were aided by the post-Sept. 11 rally effect, as well as the current rally.

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