Polls on Presidential Approval Ratings:
The USA Today's coverage of the latest poll on the President's approval ratings made me wonder about what those ratings have been over the course of the Bush Presidency. I googled around a bit and found this very interesting chart, which apparently includes polling data from most of the major polling groups over time.
The graph indicates to me that Bush got an artificial bump from 911 and the Iraq war, and then settled into is more natural range. A range that is pretty normal for most Presidents arcording to Gallup:

Rollins seems to imply that these are isolated, extreme cases and that it is highly unusual to have ratings in the 30% range as are Bush's currently. But a review of the historical record shows that that's not in fact the case. Other presidents have suffered job approval ratings just as bad as Bush's.

Bill Clinton's job approval rating was at 37% in June 1993 and 39% in August and September 1994. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, was below the current president's low point of 36% at several points in 1992, including one reading of 29% in late July, early August of that year. In January 1983, Ronald Reagan was at 35% in one Gallup Poll and at 37% in two others. Gerald Ford was at 39% in 1975. Lyndon Johnson was at 35% in August 1968. And Harry Truman had job approval ratings in the 20% range for a good deal of 1951 and 1952.
5.8.2006 3:38pm
Brooklynite (mail) (www):
A more visually appealing presentation of essentially the same data can be found here.
5.8.2006 3:39pm
Derrick (mail):
Actually Kazinski, you obviously didn't get through the rest of the article nor read the date of the article. This article for Gallup was filed on April 21, 2006 and was referencing when Bush's ratings were in the 37% range and not the significantly different 31% that they are currently in. Farther down below in the article it reads:

If Bush's job approval ratings drop into the low 30% range or into the 20s, then we will be dealing with something increasingly rare. Also, the longer Bush's ratings linger in their current range, the more unprecedented. Several of the presidents whose ratings have dropped below 40% recovered fairly quickly. Bush has more than 2 1/2 years to go as president, and the path of his job approval ratings going forward will be the real test of just how unusual his current poor positioning will turn out to be.

Bush, if he doesn't halt the slide with an invasion or something, will soon be in unprecedented territory as the most disapproved president in modern history.
5.8.2006 4:09pm
Another thing the chart shows is that Gallup is consistently too high and Zogby too low.
5.8.2006 4:16pm
According to the USA today article:

Only four presidents have scored lower approval ratings since the Gallup Poll began regularly measuring it in the mid-1940s: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush. When Nixon, Carter and the elder Bush sank below 35%, they never again registered above 40%.

Truman twice sank into the low 30s and then rose into the 60s, but the third time his rating fell, it stayed below 40% as well.

His disapproval rating is quite high:

Just prior to his resignation as president, 66% of Americans said they disapproved of the way Richard Nixon was handling the presidency.

Harry Truman scored the highest disapproval rating in Gallup's history -- 67% -- in January 1952. Truman also scored the lowest approval rating in Gallup's history, 23%, in the same poll.

According to SurveyUSA: Only four states rate him above 50% (Utah, Wyoming, Idaho Nebraska).

5.8.2006 4:28pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Interesting for the relative precision of the results, though accuracy remains as problematic as always for polls. Whatever the pollsters are doing, they're evidently doing more or less the same thing.
5.8.2006 4:37pm
Steve P. (mail):
eeyn524 -

I'd venture a complete guess here, but it may have something to do with the phrasing of the question. Zogby's question could result in more negative responses, whereas Gallup's gets more positive answers. Since they have to keep asking the exact same question (for continuity's sake) when they survey, the results are more accurate for showing trends based over time than among various polling agencies. Again, total speculation.

P.S. What's that spike around January 20th of this year? Google's Zeitgeist clued me into Hamas's electoral success in the Palestinian Authority, but it seems odd to me that it would produce a measurable spike for Bush's approval ratings. It's not like we caught Saddam or something.
5.8.2006 4:42pm
Steve P.:

Maybe the combination of Dems looking bad at the Alito hearings and good stock performance during the first few weeks of the year caused the Jan 20 spike.
5.8.2006 4:49pm
Eric Muller (www):
5.8.2006 4:51pm
Sean Carroll (mail) (www):
Lots of good charts at the pollkatz site, including this comparison of two-termers Bush, Nixon, Clinton, and Reagan. Nixon bottomed out at around 25% before resigning; Clinton finished around 60%, and Reagan around 55%.
5.8.2006 5:14pm
Houston Lawyer:
He's suffering the same kinds of problems his dad had. The center-left rallied around him in times of national crisis, and the conservatives abandoned him once he made it clear he wasn't one of them either.

Lots of opportunities to rally, but not much above 50%. Way No. 1: Bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. Way No. 2: Rely on the Democrats to do something really stupid. I'd say either one has a good chance of happening.
5.8.2006 5:15pm
Steve P. (mail):

I don't know, that doesn't seem entirely plausible to me. I never noticed the stock surge, though if it was broad and significant, that could be a boost. Also, I don't recall the Democrats looking particularly bad during the Alito hearings, except for the small minority who actually paid attention. Even then, it's not like it was a brouhaha, just a political party trying to make political hay in a freshly-mown field. You'd think there would have been a bigger boost when the Senate confirmed a new chief justice. Or a bigger dip when the President had to scuttle Miers.
5.8.2006 5:30pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Houston Lawyer's comments are a good example of a recent, recurring meme among many right-wingers lately: suddenly, it turns out, "Bush isn't a REAL conservative." Kind of surprising to hear that about a man who, when his popularity was high, was a movement-conservative's movement-conservative who was popular for that reason and (especially in places like the VC) because he was appointing movement conservatives to the courts.

Of course Bush is a real conservative. His policies on a whole host of issues are to the right of every President since the New Deal, including (at least in a number of regards) Reagan. It just turns out that (i) he's been inept dealing with big problems (Iraq, Katrina, etc.); and (ii) a number of his real conservative ideas, like privatizing social security, are pretty unpopular. Oh, and some of the more libertarian right get antsy about the "motivate the base" anti-gay initiatives and/or the torture/spying/secret prisons stuff. But they should have known better.
5.8.2006 5:31pm
It is pretty interesting when you look at the numbers of why Bush is so low. It is mainly because he only has a 4% approval rating with Democrats, which is incredibly low. With Republicans he is in the high 60's and Independents he's in the low 20's. So what it comes down to is he is in the most trouble with the one segment that would never support him anyway.

What does he have to do to get his numbers up with the rest of the electorate? Lower Gas Prices. It looks pretty apparent from this chart that the increase gas prices correlates very closely with his drop in approval ratings. More tax cuts wouldn't hurt either.
5.8.2006 5:34pm
Brooklynite (mail) (www):
There's no spike at January 20. There's a bump that starts in December 2005 and deflates in January. My hunch is that he got a little lift from the Iraqi elections and that the goodwill lasted through the holidays.

I posted an analysis of the pollkatz chart at my own blog a couple of months ago.
5.8.2006 5:40pm
JosephSlater (mail):

It's not surprising that he's "in the most trouble" with Democrats, but it's hardly inevitable that this "segment" (a plurality of the country) would disapprove to that extent. It doesn't say much for Bush's ability to be "a uniter, not a divider"; nor does his low-20s rating among independents.
5.8.2006 5:43pm
Your one-stop shopping destination for all things psephological, including analysis of the latest presidential approval numbers:
5.8.2006 5:57pm
If you turn it over, it is a chart of my weight-gain over the last five years.

5.8.2006 6:00pm
Didn't I say Bush's support amoung Democrats was "incredibly low", that's quite different from saying such low support was "inevitible". I think opposite party support that low is unprecedented, I also think it doesn't matter because the democrats are hardly a plurality. They are a minority party, and a shrinking one at that. And by shrinking I mean measured by election returns, not by asking someone how much they like the president right after they spent $50 filling up their gas tank.
5.8.2006 6:00pm
Houston Lawyer:
Conservatives don't allow the government to spend money like college students on a "Girls Gone Wild" weekend. Tom Delay, who is socially conservative, and George Bush, who is also socially conservative, have allowed their fellow Republicans to act much like the Democrats they succeeded in power. We'll still support him when he does the right thing, but will otherwise react with furious anger when he does something that feels like a stab in the back. The Republicans have always contained both an economic wing and a values wing. It's the economic wing that is in revolt right now.
5.8.2006 6:01pm
Steve P. (mail):

Excellent analysis. Thanks.
5.8.2006 6:05pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
If you turn it over, it is a chart of my weight-gain over the last five years.

Hoosier, what's your address? I'd like to send you weekly Twinkie shipments, at least until November.
5.8.2006 6:07pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
If you're not already, judicial interns &clerks, get in the habit of checking up on "your" opinions on Westlaw &Lexis, as you are in a good position to correct errors.

My first correction to Westlaw came when an opinion that was overruled by "my" later opinion was merely yellow-flagged. "Yellow-flag my ass," I grumbled, &e-mailed Westlaw.

(About that case; I was a rising 3L interning for Judge William H. Barbour over the summer, and the second memo I wrote for him was recommending that he overrule an earlier, mistaken opinion of his own. Not what I wanted to be telling a federal judge in my first week, let me tell you. I was quite nervous until he handed back the memo, saying "I agree, let's publish it." Worth repeating as a testimony to the federal judiciary and to Judge Barbour in particular.)
5.8.2006 6:13pm
JosephSlater (mail):

Last time I checked, a plurality of the country self-identified as democrats. But even if you just want to count Repub. vs. Dem. voters in the past few national/federal elections, we're still talking about just about half the country. And of course you didn't say the low support was inevitable. It's my point to say that it's NOT inevitable, so Bush must be doing something wrong.

Houston Lawyer:

I'm glad you admit Bush is a "social conservative," but it's not convincing to argue that since Bush SPENDS, then, um, he can't REALLY be an economic conservative. Bush is an economic right-winger on a host of issues, from systematically cutting back on laws and regulations protecting unions and worker rights to making the income tax less progressive, etc., etc. Face it, he's a conservative. And while I think some conservatives are embarrassed at Bush's deficit numbers, and maybe even by his spending numbers, I hope at least some of the criticisms of Bush from the reasonable folks on the right are based on the factors I mentioned in my earlier post.
5.8.2006 6:16pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Aaaargh, how did I post that to the wrong thread? Apologies, &please delete if anyone's checking.
5.8.2006 6:16pm
OK, I'll concede the point that Democrats are a plurality, except when it comes to actual voting.

And you are wrong about Bush making the income tax less progressive, Bush made the income tax MORE progressive. However I think the entire Federal tax structure including payroll taxes has become less progressive under Bush. But that is hardly his fault, his proposal for SS reform would have made the benefits payout more progressive, but it was blocked by the Democrats, and hardly emraced by the Republicans.
5.8.2006 6:28pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Kazinski: No, Democrats are close to a majority when it comes to actual voting for federal offices. Of course the last two Presidential elections been quite close (and Gore got more than Bush, as you might recall). But less well known, total up how many folks voted for a Republican Senator and how many voted for a Dem. Senator in the last election -- you might be surprised.

I'm not sure Bush made income tax alone less progressive: the bulk of the tax cuts went to the more affluent. And certainly if we count things like alterations to the estate tax, it's notably less progressive overall. So if we can agree that Bush has made the whole tax system less progressive, I'm willing to stop there.

And Bush's proposal for SS reform was hardly embraced by anybody, because it was totally unworkable on its face.
5.8.2006 6:38pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Oops, meant to say, "I'm not sure Bush DIDN'T make income tax alone less progressive ...."
5.8.2006 6:39pm
SimonD (www):
When I see these polls, which generalize the attitudes of a nation of three hundred million people from a survey of a thousand adults, I always wonder about that key piece of information that you NEVER see in opinion polls. No, not the party affiliation of respondents, polls often include that information. No, I mean the other key piece of information that you NEVER see in opinion polls: the geographical distribution of the respondents. Where are these thousand people? Are they evenly distributed throughout the nation? Or are they just the first thousand names picked randomly from the local telephone directory at the AP's reception desk?
5.8.2006 6:53pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Where are these thousand people? Are they evenly distributed throughout the nation? Or are they just the first thousand names picked randomly from the local telephone directory at the AP's reception desk?

You're not serious about the latter, I trust? But it would be nice to know how they distribute the pollees (which is now a word, I've decided).

"Not in Mississippi" is all I can tell you for sure.
5.8.2006 7:04pm
John Thacker (mail):
I'm not sure Bush made income tax alone less progressive: the bulk of the tax cuts went to the more affluent.

Yes, but they were paying the bulk of the taxes. On the whole, the income tax along was made more progressive, not less, by the tax cuts. See the CEA report that Profess Greg Mankiw links to here.
Estate tax is, of course, a different measure.

In any case, if you want a graph of Bush approval ratings, note this remarkable correlation between approval ratings and the inverse of gas prices.
5.8.2006 7:39pm
JosephSlater (mail):

You may be right about income taxes in isolation. But it's less progressive if you add in other aspects, e.g., the repeal of the estate tax.
5.8.2006 7:44pm
frankcross (mail):
The gas price thing is a huge hoax. Basically, you see gas prices getting steadily higher and Bush getting steadily lower. You could find many such associations, it doesn't show there is any causal association. Moreover, on those few occasions when gas prices declined, Bush typically kept going down. Especially Sept. to Dec. 2005. You could try to get around this by hypothesizing a three month lag time, but that lag doesn't show up anywhere else.

And this hypothesis is incredibly insulting to the American people. Of all the issues ranging from the Iraq War to social issues, it's implausible they are focused exclusively on gas prices.
5.8.2006 8:13pm
Syd (mail):
"JosephSlater (mail):
Kazinski: No, Democrats are close to a majority when it comes to actual voting for federal offices. Of course the last two Presidential elections been quite close (and Gore got more than Bush, as you might recall). But less well known, total up how many folks voted for a Republican Senator and how many voted for a Dem. Senator in the last election -- you might be surprised. "

If I remember, the Democrats outpolled the Republicans by a considerable margin, mostly because of the two candidates for the Illinois seat.
5.8.2006 8:40pm
nrein1 (mail):
SimonD, polls are random. This probably means they ahve some sort of random name generator that uses phone books or something. I've never answered a poll either, but I am sure at least once when someone asked me if I had a moment, a question to which I always answer no, it was a pollster.
5.8.2006 9:01pm
Syd and JS:
You can't use the vote for the Senate as any kind of measurement of total Republican and Democratic support. Because only 1/3 of the seats are up and 1/3 of the states don't vote at all it is not a very good measure of total voter sentiment. However I will say that even though the Republicans lost the total Senate vote by 5.5% we did pick up 4 seats, I'll take an ass whipping like that every time.

I don't want to accuse you of cherry picking facts to support your hypothesis, but let me ask you why would you pick the 2004 Senate races as the bellweather when you have the 2004 Presidential race(R-51%,D-48%), which at least included all the states, or the 435 house races (R-49%,D-46%) which should provide a much better statistical picture with a multitude of races spread out over the entire country? Is it because neither one support the view of a Democratic plurality?
5.8.2006 9:03pm
A net approval of -34 is worse than the low suffered by either Jimmy Carter (-31) or Bush's father (-31). Only Truman and Nixon ever fared worse.

Since 1950, this is the lowest job approval for a President facing midterm elections by more than ten points.

This is the first poll showing Bush's disapproval to be more than twice the size of his approval.

This is the lowest approval rating for Bush in any public survey since the start of his term.

5.8.2006 10:27pm
rationalactor (mail):
josephslater &johnthacker
the real doozy on the tax code change was the drop in the capital gains tax, given that the vast vast majority of taxable capital gains (i.e. not in tax advantaged savings vehicles) go to the top 5-10%.
5.8.2006 10:52pm
Smithy (mail) (www):
I'm skeptical of these polls -- no one I know has ever been polled. I just don't see how 1000 people is going to be a good indicator of how 280 million people think.

Anyway, this president doesn't govern by polls. We had a president who did and left us with a recession and wide open to a terrorist attack.
5.8.2006 11:17pm
Syd (mail):
Kazinski: I wasn't cherrypicking, I was answering a question. The Democrats outpolled the Republicans mostly because Barack Obama creamed Alan Keyes in the Illinois Senate Race. When you have only 33 races total, a freak result in a populous state can skew the total.

More interesting in this regard are the polls showing that 15% more people want the Democrats to gain control of Congress. That would mean that a number of House races that are assumed to be safely Republican are going to go the other way.
5.8.2006 11:19pm
SimonD (www):
I agree. Don't get me wrong, I have no axe to grindl if Bush is unpopular, that's just fine with me. But it just seems fatal to their credibility that they don't include information like: what was the question asked? What age group was asked? Where were they? What are their political affiliations? I mean, if you polled 1000 random residents of Boston, Massachusetts, the odds are, there is an inbuilt majority of people who despise Bush and everything he stands for, but if you poll 1000 random residents of Valentine, Nebraska, the average person is likely to be better-inclined towards Bush. Equally, the impetuous youth demographic disproportionately went for Kerry, so if your 1000 people are disproportionately young, that also skews your results. It's okay, they're young; like any good bourbon, they need a few years to sit and mature.

I'm not saying these folks don't know how to take a poll, what I'm saying is that if "trust me" doesn't cut it for the President of the United States, "trust us" sure as heck doesn't cut it for a polling company.

It really doesn't help your case to cite MyDD. It would be like a Republican citing Blogs for Bush as a source for some sort of information: not exactly a reliable source. If MyDD said that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, a majority of the blogosphere would start wondering if maybe there was something in that conspiracy theory after all.
5.9.2006 12:55am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Frankcross: A coincidence, maybe. A hoax? Are you disputing the data points? Do you have any evidence of this conspiracy? Perhaps you just used too strong a word?

No one's saying it's a conscious decision. When the price of gas goes up 50 cents, the collective mood of the nation is affected in a way that might be picked up in a broad poll. It might be "insulting" to the American people to point out that gas prices are more important than Iraq, but that doesn't make it false.
5.9.2006 1:37am
Hans Gruber (www):
Bush's poll ratings are low primarily because of dissatisfied conservatives on immigration and high spending; high gas prices suppress his numbers among all groups, but particularly independents. Iraq has very little to do with it.
5.9.2006 3:50am
I've been following these graphs for a long time. It is very interesting to me that overall, Bush has been on a steady downward trend. That implies to me there is something fundamental about Bush that wears on people over time.

Also, I find it funny that beating up on Kerry during the campaign was almost as helpful for his job approval as capturing Saddam.
5.9.2006 8:45am
JosephSlater (mail):

Iraq has very little to do with it? Have you checked out the incredible dive in poll numbers on specific questions like "do you approve of the way the President is handling Iraq" and "Was the Iraq War a mistake in the first place"?


The point, which you're dodging, is that Democrats are not some small irrelevant segment of the country, they are, give or take, half the country. So attempting to dismiss Bush's dismal overall numbers as some artifact of a "segment" of the population disliking him is unpersuasive.

Rational Actor:

Yeah, the capital gains cuts too. More acts of an economic conservative.
5.9.2006 11:13am
Sorry I did misread your post.

The Democrats are not some small irrelevent segment of the country, and they have a real chance of retaking Congress. But the Democrats are irrelevant to Bush and the Republicans in the midterm elections. Republicans and independents are all they need for a working majority, they need to get the Republican base energized and they need to get about 40-45% of the independents.

The really hard thing for the Democrats this midterm is that Congress' approval rating is worse than Bush's. The main complaint voters have about Congress is that they fight too much and don't try to get along. So if the Democrats run on a platform of investigations, blocking the Presidents judicial picks and impeachments, which is what the base wants, then that will alienate the independents in the middle, at the same time energizing the Republican base. I think the Democrats will pick up a few seats in both chambers but will still be short of control.
5.9.2006 1:11pm
JosephSlater (mail):

By your logic, then, the fact that Bush is in the low 20s with independents is a problem.

The really hard thing for Democrats this midterm is the redistricting that makes an overwhelming number of seats relatively safe seats. The Dems' best hope is a general revulsion not just against Bush but against Republicans generally, based on scandals and incompetence as well as policy disagreements. It will be a tough row to hoe for the Dems., but the Repubs. seem to be doing everything they can to make it easier for them.
5.9.2006 5:03pm
The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll...

Mr. Bush's overall job approval rating hit another new low, 31 percent, tying the low point of his father, George H. W. Bush, in July 1992, four months before the elder Mr. Bush lost his bid for a second term to Bill Clinton. That is the third lowest approval rating of any president in 50 years; only Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter were viewed less favorably.
5.9.2006 8:52pm
godfodder (mail):
At the risk of pissing off somebody, I believe that I can settle once and for all the reason for Pres. Bush's low approval numbers.... Drumroll please!

Incredibly negative press 24-7 for the past 5 years. **ding,ding, we have a winner! Can anyone remember a single story that was even marginally pro-Bush that had prominent play in the last, oh, say 3-4 years? Pretty much nada. There was 911, then zip for the following 4 years. I have never (and I have been around for a while) seen more negative press for any president, baring of course the extraordinary case of Richard Nixon.

It is really amazing when you stand back and look at it objectively. From the New York Times, to CNN, to the LA Times, to your hometown paper and your local news. Zip. Near constant negativity. At times (Cafferty, Olberman, et. al.) a thinly veiled loathing. Who among us has ever been subjected to such a relentless barrage? How could any politician or any public figure stand up against such an onslaught? Ain't gonna happen. Bush's numbers are permanently in the toilet until his press improves, and guess what? That ain't gonna happen either.
5.10.2006 1:34am
JosephSlater (mail):

You're not pissing anybody off with that whine, but you're not convincing either. Aside from the obvious point that Bush's numbers used to be much higher with the same press in place ...

First, apparently you think nobody reads or listens to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and other conservative newspapers; all of Fox News; right-wing shows on other cable networks like Scarborough Country and the Tucker Carlson show; or pretty much all of talk radio. Oh, and there are some conservative blogs, if you haven't noticed. That all slants WAY further to the right than the so called "main stream media" slants liberal.

And as to the so called "liberal" part of the media, it was actually shamefully in the tank for the Bush administration in the run-up to and well into the war, not challenging or investigating assertions by the Bush admin. that ultimately proved entirely false. The Bush administration can take credit for that by intentionally intimidating folks -- "better watch what you say" -- and repeatedly implying that folks criticizing Bush's handling of the war were undermining the troops.

Bush's numbers are low because a majority of Americans correctly perceive that he's doing a lousy job.
5.10.2006 12:00pm