13. John F. Kennedy: 70.1%

President John F. Kennedy speaks on stage
Mediapunch/Shutterstock
President John F. Kennedy.

Presidency: 1961-1963

JFK’s approval rating was sky-high compared to the levels that are typical for modern presidents.

But his high average rating may be a bit deceiving. Gallup’s data shows the scores tend to dip during a president's second term, but Kennedy’s never made it that far.

By the fall of 1963 his approval rating was in decline, and it might have dropped further if not for his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

A 2018 poll showed JFK remains a wildly popular figure — he scored highest (86%) in a retrospective approval survey of past presidents.

12. George H.W. Bush: 60.9%

President H. W. Bush with Margaret Thatcher
Wikimedia Commons
President George H.W. Bush with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Presidency: 1989-1993

The senior Bush enjoyed high approval ratings for the first years of his presidency.

His approval topped 70% when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and it was nearly 90% by the end of the Gulf War that drove Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991. That was the highest-ever presidential job approval rating up to that time.

But by the following year, the president's numbers sank amid rising unemployment. By 1992, Democratic challenger Bill Clinton was hammering away on the poor state of the economy, and Bush's rating sagged to 29%.

Ultimately, Bush became the 10th U.S. president to fail to win re-election.

11. Dwight Eisenhower: 65%

Dwight Eisenhower
YouTube / Biography
President Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower.

Presidency: 1953-1961

Even people born decades after Eisenhower are familiar with the campaign slogan, "I Like Ike." And people did like him, judging from his approval numbers.

Eisenhower ended the Korean War during his first year in the White House, and the strong economic growth of the postwar period was called the “Eisenhower prosperity" by some Americans.

The Republican's popularity extended across the political divide: Nearly half of Democrats said they approved of Eisenhower's job performance, according to Pew Research.

But Ike also had critics who called him a "do-nothing" president and said he took too many golfing and fishing trips.

10. Bill Clinton: 55.1%

Former president Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton
YouTube / CNN
President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton.

Presidency: 1993-2001

The charismatic former governor of Arkansas enjoyed relatively high approval ratings throughout his presidency, even amid high-profile scandals.

According to Gallup, Clinton's lowest approval rating — 37% — came during his first year, and it generally rose from there.

But he scored some of his best numbers while he was dogged by controversy. After Clinton was impeached in 1998 for lying under oath and obstructing justice, his rating reached its highest point at 73%.

Americans gave him good grades for his handling of the economy, Gallup says. In 1998, midway through Clinton's second term, a strong 7 out of 10 voters said they anticipated being better off during the following year.

9. Lyndon B. Johnson: 55.1%

Lyndon B. Johnson sits at desk writing with group of people behind him
Wikimedia Commons
President Lyndon Johnson, signing the bill that created Medicare.

Presidency: 1963-1969

LBJ took office immediately following the death of John F. Kennedy, and he began his presidency with strong approval ratings by vowing to continue JFK’s legacy.

But Johnson was in office during a restless time for America, with the U.S. fighting in Vietnam while dealing with a civil rights struggle and waging a war on poverty at home.

The 36th president’s ratings started to trend downhill as Americans began to sour on the war in Vietnam and grew concerned about rioting in major cities. Johnson ultimately chose not to run for re-election in 1968.

Want to learn more about the occupants of the White House? Shop online for a presidential history book, and be sure to use a free browser extension that will find you the lowest price.

8. Ronald Reagan: 52.8%

Ronald Reagan waves to crowd
Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock
President Ronald Reagan.

Presidency: 1981-1989

Reagan's relatively modest average approval rating might seem contrary to how people think of the 40th president today. After all, highways, buildings and a major airport have been renamed in his honor, and some have proposed adding his face to Mount Rushmore.

But his standing wasn’t as stellar during his two terms in the 1980s.

Reagan's ratings were hurt in the early years by a slumping economy, and in the later years by a secret arms deal with Iran, which nearly brought down his presidency. But polling showed Americans still liked the man even when they didn’t care for his presidency.

During the 1982 recession, only about 40% approved of the job Reagan was doing, but 60% still approved of him personally. Maybe it was the charisma you'd expect from a former movie star.

7. George W. Bush: 49.4%

TEL AVIV - JAN 09 2008:U.S. President George W. Bush  during the welcoming ceremony in Israe.US President George W. Bush visited Israel twice during his two terms.
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Presidency: 2001-2009

"Dubya" saw his support move from record highs to record lows during his time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

After the Sept. 11 attacks — and amid the war against terrorism that followed — Bush’s support grew to 90%. It was the highest rating yet in Gallup’s long-running poll, beating the previous record held by his father.

But his approval ratings steadily declined from there, as the economy struggled and the Iraq War persisted.

By 2008, Bush was having trouble topping even 30% support — and in one survey that year, 41% of respondents predicted Bush would be remembered as the worst president ever.

6. Richard Nixon: 49%

President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai toast glasses
Wikimedia Commons
President Richard Nixon with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.

Presidency: 1969-1974

If you expected to see Nixon’s name even further down this list, you’re forgetting how celebrated he was during his early years in the White House. His approval rating climbed to 67% in 1969.

But then Watergate entered the conversation — and by May 1973, more Americans disapproved of Nixon’s performance than approved.

For the rest of that year, and until he ultimately resigned, only about a quarter of Americans still approved of his performance as president.

5. Barack Obama: 47.9%

Barack Obama giving speech with American flag in the background
Wikimedia Commons

Presidency: 2009-2017

America's first Black president was a polarizing figure during his two terms in office, as his background, youthfulness and personality all elicited strong reactions.

Obama started with support north of 60%, though it would never climb to those levels again throughout his eight years in the White House.

In a surprising twist, it was popularity from Republicans that helped give him his high early approval numbers. When Democrat Obama was inaugurated, his approval score was above 40% among members of the opposing party — but within eight months, it fell to 20% and never recovered.

4. Gerald Ford: 47.2%

Gerald Ford Swearing-In Ceremony
YouTube / C-SPAN
President Gerald Ford being sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger.

Presidency: 1974-1977

Gerald Ford has been called an “accidental” president: He was appointed vice president during Nixon’s term, and assumed the presidency following Nixon’s resignation. So, he was never elected to either position.

Following in Nixon’s unpopular footsteps helped Ford begin with a booming approval rating of 71%.

But just a month later, Ford's approval plummeted to 50% after he pardoned Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal; Gallup polls found a majority of Americans opposed that decision.

Low ratings plagued the rest of Ford's partial term in office, and he began the election year of 1976 with just 46% of Americans giving him the thumbs-up. The Republican was beaten in the election by Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter.

3. Jimmy Carter: 45.5%

Former president Jimmy Carter and wife attend baseball game
Erik S Lesser/EPA/Shutterstock
President Jimmy Carter with his wife, Rosalind Carter

Presidency: 1977-1981

Jimmy Carter’s rise to commander-in-chief came despite a nearly nonexistent national profile.

“In response to the twin nightmares of Vietnam and Watergate that had shattered public confidence in government, Americans gravitated toward leaders who were outside the Washington sphere,” writes politics professor Robert A. Strong for the University of Virginia Miller Center.

But Carter’s time was marked by low public approval ratings. He took office during a recession and, though the situation improved slightly, he largely failed to turn the economy around.

He also was criticized for returning the Panama Canal Zone to Panama, and his standing with the public suffered a final blow when he was unable to free American hostages held in Iran.

2. Harry Truman: 45.4%

Former president Harry S. Truman Seated at His Desk in his Senate Office
Wikimedia Commons
The future President Harry Truman, in his U.S. Senate office.

Presidency: 1945-1953

The 33rd president assumed office following the sudden death of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. Truman is perhaps best known for the still-controversial decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to help end World War II.

By the time he left office, he was deeply unpopular. Truman even holds the Gallup record of lowest presidential approval ever: He registered just 22% support in a February 1952 poll.

“The Korean War, accusations of corruption in his administration, and the anticommunist red-baiting by McCarthy and his allies had all contributed to the president's poor standing with the public,” writes history professor Alonzo L. Hamby.

Way back in the 1920s, Truman nearly went bankrupt following the failure of a shop he co-founded. People in deep financial holes today can use debt consolidation loans to make debt more manageable.

1. Donald Trump: 41%

President Donald Trump speaks into microphone
Shutterstock
President Donald Trump.

Presidency: 2017-present

Gallup has tracked Trump’s approval rating between 35% and 49% since 2017. Barring a late rally, he’ll leave the White House in January with the lowest average approval rating for any president in modern history.

It's not just Americans who've found Trump difficult to support. A 2018 Gallup poll showed U.S. leadership approval abroad at an all-time low after just one year into his time as president.

Trump's rough edges and his unusual relationship with the truth have rubbed many Americans the wrong way, but his brand of politics has won him an intensely loyal base of supporters.

As a result, the 2020 race with Biden was much closer than many pollsters had predicted.

About the Author

Ethan Rotberg

Ethan Rotberg

Reporter

Ethan Rotberg is a staff reporter at MoneyWise. His background includes nearly 15 years as a writer, editor, designer and communications professional. He loves storytelling, from feature writing to narrative podcasts. His work has appeared in the Toronto Star, CPA Canada and Metro, among others.

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