Since the introduction of the presidential job approval system by George Gallup in the 1930s, US citizens have the opportunity to express their approval or disapproval of how a certain president performs their duties. Though the opinion polls conducted are majorly subjective, they give a range of the popularity the president has among the citizens. The ratings of presidents have varied from approval to disapproval during their terms in office. While ratings are expected to fall during scandalous moments, ratings can also rise.
10. George W. Bush - 71%
George W. Bush served as 43rd US president from 2001-2009, becoming both one of the most popular and unpopular presidents. He received both high and low ratings during his tenure. His lowest ratings were linked to the 2008 financial crisis which began in December 2007. The crisis led to increased prices of oil and mortgages, and the devaluation of the dollar. More than two million jobs were lost during this period with the unemployment rate reaching 7.2%. The lowest approval rating that Bush received while in office was 25%.
9. Harry Truman - 67%
Harry Truman was the 33rd US president and has the second highest disapproval rating at 67%. He served as the US president between 1945 and 1953. President Truman often received criticism for his language as well as most of the decisions he made. His approval rating dropped steadily during the strike wave of 1946. The steady fall of his approval ratings saw the public lose faith in the Democrats and the Republicans took over the senate for the first time in sixteen years. Some of the senators proposed the resignation of President Truman when his approval ratings dropped to 32%. Throughout his second term, his approval ratings continued to decline during the Korean War where he blamed his generals for failed efforts in the war. His final rating in February 1952 stood at 22%.
8. Richard Nixon - 66%
Richard Nixon was the 37th US president serving from January 1969 to August 1974. Like his predecessors, Nixon received both low and high approval rates based on how he ran his administration. At the time of his second swearing in, his approval was highest at 67%. Nixon's approval rating reached the lowest after the arrest of the five burglars in the Watergate scandal of 1972. His attempt to cover up the involvement of his administration lead to a loss of popularity and a threat for impeachment. The scandal resulted in a revelation of the ills of Nixon’s administration including abuse of office, illegal tapping of opponent’s offices and suspicious parties. A series of court proceedings revealed his involvement, prompting him to resign from his position on August 9, 1974, to avoid impeachment. At the time of his resignation, his approval rate stood at 25%.
7. George H. W. Bush - 60%
America elected George H. W. Bush as the 41st president of the US serving between 1989 and 1993. While Bush’s administration began on a high approval rate, his fallout with the Republicans on the increase of taxes to cut on government deficits led to the declining in his popularity. He signed a bill passed by the Democrats to increase government spending and increase taxes, which resulted in a mild recession. During this period, many Republicans and Independents lost their jobs with the unemployment rate rising to 7.8%. Bush had the highest approval rate of 89% in 1991 and the lowest approval rate of 29% in 1992.
6. Jimmy Carter - 59%
Carter served as the 39th US president from 1977-1981 whose approval ratings were very low during the Iran Hostage Crisis. During the 1979-1980 crisis, President Carter attempted to re-establish US-Iran ties, efforts which failed due to the deep resentment for the West by the Iranians. 52 US citizens were held hostage for 444 days during which unsuccessful attempts of negotiations failed. After the failed hostage rescue mission that killed eight officers, Carter’s popularity fell to 20% with citizens losing faith in the military. The Iran Hostage Crisis dealt a major blow to Carter’s hope for re-election for a second term. In 1979, Carter had the lowest approval rates of 28% and the disapproval rate was 59% in the same year.
5. Donald Trump - 58%
Trump is the 45th US president currently serving his first term. Trump's administration is marked by criticism and controversies such as the claim against former President Barack Obama wiretapping the Trump Tower during the election campaign period. The approval rate of Trump’s administration is likely to fall with his policy to scrap the Obamacare health bill. Trump is notably the first president with such declining approval rates only two months after his inauguration. The highest approval rate for president trump in January 2017 stood at 46% while the lowest approval rate was in March at 37%.
4. Barack Obama - 57%
Obama was the 44th president of the US since 2009 to 2017. Though Obama was a popular president during his tenure, he still recorded low approval rates amid several controversies. The Affordable Care Act was criticized with inflexibility and difficulty in accessing the healthcare portal. The ACA roll-out caused frustration among US citizens leading to a fall in Obama’s approval ratings in late 2013. The Obamacare policy has also seen the exclusion by some insurance companies in certain states. The highest disapproval of Obama was in 2014 with disapproval rates of 57%.
3. Ronald Reagan - 52%
Reagan was the 40th US president serving from 1981 to 1989. Reagan’s popularity declined amidst the Iran-Contra affair in which his administration was accused of funding the Contra rebels who fought the Nicaraguan government during the Iran-Iraq war. Reagan admitted that his administration had indeed sold weapons to Iran when trying to release the six US hostages in Lebanon. The scandal attracted much criticism as he was considered to be overzealous in anti-communism. The November 1986 scandal was the most damaging for Reagan’s presidency resulting in 11 convictions and 14 indictments. Reagan had the lowest approval at 35% in 1983 and lowest disapproval at 56% in the same year. In 1986 he had the highest approval of 71%.
2. Bill Clinton - 54%
Bill Clinton was the president from 1993-2001. Clinton’s tenure was one marked by general economic improvement including a fall in inflation and the creation of more jobs, particularly in the private sector. However, he had a record of low approval rates during his first term due to controversies such as the White House travel office controversy where he was criticized for unfair dismissal of travel staff. Clinton had the lowest approval rates of 37% in 1993 and his highest approval was in 1998 standing at 73%.
1. Lyndon Johnson - 52%
Lyndon Johnson was the 36th US president from 1963 to 1969. Johnson's lowest approval rating was during his final months as president. After the US joined the Vietnam War in 1964, Johnson revoked the withdrawal order by President Kennedy causing his ratings to drop. His approval rate was at 35% and the disapproval rate was 52%. The situation was made worse by the escalating levels of anti-war protests. Conscription into the Vietnam War increased as well as the number of American casualties leading to a decline in peace negotiations. Failure to withdraw the troops from Vietnam increased pressure on him from the military to initiate bombing attacks. The Vietnamese war issue clouded his final years as president losing his chance for a re-election.
Which President Has the Lowest Approval Rating?
Presidents that have recorded the lowest approval ratings include Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
Your MLA Citation
Your APA Citation
Your Chicago Citation
Your Harvard CitationRemember to italicize the title of this article in your Harvard citation.