Americans’ views of former president George W. Bush have improved, with 49 percent now viewing him favorably and 46 percent unfavorably. This is the first time since 2005 that opinions of him have been more positive than negative.
Bush has maintained a fairly low profile in the four years since he left office. However, he returned to the public eye this year with the April opening of his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Bush left office with 40 percent viewing him favorably and 59 percent unfavorably in January 2009. That worsened to 35 percent favorable and 63 percent unfavorable in March 2009, but his favorable rating recovered to the mid-40 percent range by 2010.
The June 1-4 poll shows further improvement in Americans’ ratings of Bush, which had not been more positive than negative since April 2005. Prior to then, Americans had always viewed Bush more favorably than unfavorably, including an 87 percent favorable rating in November 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That is one percentage point below the all-time high Gallup has measured for any public figure, shared by Colin Powell (2002) and Tiger Woods (2000).
Bush’s lowest favorable rating was 32 percent in April 2008, as the economy was in recession and gas prices were headed toward record highs in the U.S. Also at the time, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were engaged in a spirited campaign to become the Democratic nominee who would run for president to succeed Bush.
Americans Generally Kind to Ex-Presidents
The recovery in Bush’s image is not unexpected, given that Americans generally view former presidents positively. Gallup’s favorable ratings for Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all exceeded 60 percent when last measured.
George W. Bush’s lower rating may be due to his shorter time as an ex-president. For example, Clinton’s favorable rating, which dropped as low as 39 percent in the months after he left office, recovered to 56 percent roughly four years later – still better than George W. Bush’s current 49 percent, but not as positive as Clinton’s more recent ratings. Gallup did not measure favorable ratings in the current format for presidents prior to 1992. Its first post-presidency measure for the elder George Bush came eight years after he left office.
Bush More Popular Among All Party Groups Since 2009
George W. Bush’s favorable rating is more positive now among all party groups than it was in March 2009, when it dipped to 35 percent overall. Currently, 84 percent of Republicans, 46 percent of independents, and 24 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of Bush, each up more than 10 points since 2009. However, the more recent improvement in his ratings, a five-point overall uptick since November 2010, has been more apparent among Democrats, whose rating has increased by 10 points since then.
Opinions of Bush still show a high degree of party polarization, with a 60-point gap in his favorable ratings from Republicans versus Democrats. Party polarization marked Bush’s ratings while he was in office as well. His job approval ratings were the most polarized for a president prior to Barack Obama.
Americans’ opinions of George W. Bush have improved with the passage of time, and now the public’s ratings of the former president tilt positive. Bush left office with decidedly negative favorability ratings as well as approval ratings, so the recovery in his image is notable.
The improvement is not unexpected, though, given Americans’ generally positive views of former presidents, and it would not be out of the question for Bush’s image to continue to improve in future years. But Bush’s image improved more from 2009 to 2010 than it has in the past three years, even with a recent round of positive publicity from the opening of his presidential library, so that is not a guarantee he will see the 60%+ favorable ratings enjoyed by other former presidents anytime soon.