Special Report

The Final Approval Rating of Every President Since Harry Truman

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Jimmy Carter
> Years in office: 1977-1981
> Approval rating last week of office: 34% (Overall average: 46%)
> Disapproval rating last week of office: 55%

Jimmy Carter, the longest-living president, had a successful career as a diplomat after leaving the White House in 1981. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts.” His four years in office, however, were marred by high inflation, an energy crisis (oil prices skyrocketed from $13 a barrel to over $34 a barrel during his term), high unemployment, and, towards the end, the Iran hostage crisis.

Many of Carter’s proposals, including a welfare reform, were blocked by Congress. Carter enjoyed more success in his foreign policies. The former president was credited with helping Egypt and Israel reach a peace agreement that ended their hostile relationships. He also helped open full diplomatic relations with China and improve relations with the Soviet Union.

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Ronald Reagan
> Years in office: 1981-1989
> Approval rating last week of office: 63% (Overall average: 53%)
> Disapproval rating last week of office: 29%

Ronald Reagan, a former actor and governor of California nicknamed “the Great Communicator” for his public speaking skills, was among the most popular two-term presidents in U.S. history. During his eight years at the White House he cut income taxes by 23%, increased defense spending by 20% between 1982 to 1983, and negotiated an agreement with the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear arms. Reagan is also credited for helping to end the Cold War.

Reagan won reelection in 1984, carrying 49 out of 50 states (he only lost Minnesota and D.C.) and receiving 525 out of 538 electoral votes, the biggest win ever by a presidential candidate. At the end of Reagan’s term, the U.S. had the longest period of prosperity without recession or depression.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

George H. W. Bush
> Years in office: 1989-1993
> Approval rating last week of office: 56% (Overall average: 61%)
> Disapproval rating last week of office: 37%

George H.W. Bush, who was a two-term vice president under Ronald Reagan, was a one-term president. His four years at the White House were marked by successful military operations against Panama and Iraq but also by an economic recession at home, which ultimately cost him reelection in 1992.

Bush famously declared at the 1988 National Republican Convention before accepting the party’s nomination for president that he would not raise taxes. However, defying conservatives, he broke his “read my lips: no new taxes” promise in 1990 to broker a budget compromise.

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William J. Clinton
> Years in office: 1993-2001
> Approval rating last week of office: 66% (Overall average: 55%)
> Disapproval rating last week of office: 29%

Bill Clinton was the most popular outgoing president, based on Gallup’s approval ratings polls. Clinton’s time in office between 1993 and 2001 was marked by historic economic growth with low unemployment and a budget surplus. Clinton is also remembered for appointing several women to influential positions, including Janet Reno, who became the first woman to serve as attorney general, Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female justice in the Supreme Court.

Clinton was impeached in 1998 on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice related to a sexual relationship he had with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern at the time, but he was acquitted.

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George W. Bush
> Years in office: 2001-2009
> Approval rating last week of office: 34% (Overall average: 49%)
> Disapproval rating last week of office: 61%

George W. Bush narrowly won the 2000 presidential elections, defeating Al Gore, who served as vice president under Bill Clinton. Bush’s term was largely shaped by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Bush declared a war on terror, formed the Department of Homeland Security, and authorized a U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq.

Bush lost much of his popularity during his second term due to his administration’s widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast region, and the revelation that Bush’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were misleading.