Monday, April 29, 2013

Bush and Obama: Now and Then

As former President Bush and President Obama came together in Dallas for the Bush presidential library event, their approval ratings also converged to the surprise of most. G.W. Bush left office as poorly thought of as President Nixon after his resignation (33% approval) and President Obama came in with a sky-high 68 percent approval. Today, they are equal in approval (47%) and nearly so in disapproval.

Bush had an extraordinary bad run of low public assent, with approval below 40 percent for 26 months – a historic record – which, of course, contributed to the Democrats taking over Congress in 2006 and sweeping the presidency and much else in 2008.

But, some groups are reevaluating him or, at least, forgetting what most aggravated them. Seniors now approve (57%), as do key Republican constituencies, like non-college whites (also 57% approval). Republicans in general have increased their approval over the four years by 16 points to 84 percent.

Bush has benefited from his steadfast effort to stay out of politics (the gracious president, a sharp contrast with former President Carter) and the generally sympathetic news of his family – father recovering from a holiday illness and birth of a new granddaughter. But mostly Bush benefits from Obama being at least as polarizing a figure. Although Obama’s time at 40 percent or less approval in 2011 was much shorter, it’s hard to see him ever getting above the low 50 percent approval level given today’s partisan divisions and the public’s dislike for Washington.

The timing of this recovery is good. The opening of Bush’s presidential library at SMU provided a friendly backdrop for mostly warm and sympathetic coverage.

See ABC/Washington Post poll: George W. Bush retrospective

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