White House

Clinton and Elder Bush Are America's Favorite Living Ex-Presidents


Bill Clinton stands with George H.W. Bush during the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 24, 2008, in New York

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Bill Clinton stands with George H.W. Bush during the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 24, 2008, in New York

Bill Clinton and the elder George Bush are the most popular living ex-presidents, according to a Gallup Poll released today. Both are way ahead of the current officeholder, Barack Obama, who comes in last, trailing his predecessor, George W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter.

“Americans typically rate presidents more positively after they leave office, so Obama’s relatively worse standing than his predecessors is not surprising,” Jeffrey Jones of Gallup Politics says in an article accompanying the poll’s release. The president still has something to worry about, though, because “the current poll represents Obama’s worst favorable rating to date.”

As the table shows, Clinton and George H.W. Bush finished in a statistical dead heat, with Clinton coming in one point higher on favorability (64 to 63) but also three points higher on unfavorability (34 to 31). George W. Bush was well back with a 53 percent favorability rating.

Jimmy Carter may have suffered in the popularity ratings because he served so long ago (1977-1981) that 16 percent of those surveyed had no opinion of him. If just half of those who had no opinion had said they liked him, he would have come in ahead of the younger Bush.

Then there’s Obama, bringing up the rear. With admirable nonpartisanship, Gallup’s Jones writes: “The public likely views the incumbent president in more strongly partisan terms than former presidents, given the chief executive’s role in negotiating the prevailing political and policy disputes of the day. Past presidents largely stay away from those contentious matters but still serve a public but largely ceremonial role, often using their high profile for charitable work.”

George W. Bush, for one, has enjoyed a nice post-White House bounce. This is the first time he has broken above 50 percent since 2005, early in his second term.

Coy_190
Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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