Kennedy remains most popular modern president
December 6th, 2010
11:28 AM ET
12 years ago

Kennedy remains most popular modern president

(CNN) – Nearly fifty years after he was assassinated, President John F. Kennedy remains the highest rated modern president, according to a new Gallup Poll.

Kennedy earned an 85 percent retrospective job approval rating, the highest among the nine U.S. presidents who have served in the past 50 years. Ronald Reagan ranked second with a 74 percent approval rating.

Bill Clinton eclipsed Jimmy Carter for third place, while Carter's 52 percent approval rating brought him down to sixth place. Gallup noted that Carter's declining rank - his approval rating peaked at 69 percent in 1999 - may be attributed to his criticism of George W. Bush and the Iraq War.

Richard Nixon again ranked last, as he has almost every year since the 20-year-old poll was initiated.

This was the first time George W. Bush was included in the poll since he left office in January 2009. He earned a 47 percent approval rating, and 51 percent disapproval rating, joining with Nixon as the only two presidents whose retrospective job disapproval exceeded their approval.

Despite this, the poll indicates that public opinion may be improving for the 43rd president. Bush's final approval rating while in office was 34 percent - 13 points lower than his initial retrospective rating.

In fact, the poll, which asked Americans to say whether they approve or disapprove of how each president handled his job in office, indicated that most modern presidents have enjoyed an increase in public approval since leaving office. Reagan, Ford, Carter, and George H.W. Bush have all earned higher retrospective job approval ratings than the ratings they earned at the end of their presidencies. Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton's ratings have remained about the same as they were at the end of their respective terms.

The poll surveyed American adults by telephone interviews. It was conducted from November 19-21, with a sampling error of ±4 percentage points.

Filed under: Bill Clinton • George W. Bush • Jimmy Carter • John F. Kennedy • Poll • Richard Nixon
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Name Tom

    JFK was the greatest modern U.S. President until Bill Clinton came along. Among Clinton's achievements included turning a then record deficit to a record surplus. He knew how to use the special forces among other things. As for the worst president:
    George W. Bush-he undid the record surplus to a new record deficit. Fought two wars in a lazy manner and made a mockery out of all of us in the process. Actually GWB is tied for the worst with his father and Ronald Reagan-they shipped arms to Iran to get hostages out of Beirut after saying that they will not negotiate with terrorists. That alone is an impeachible offense. Desert Storm being fought in a lazy manner when the troops were not allowed to go into Iraq back in 1991-come on! Now Obama is one step above the lowly three. He'll soon make it the Four way tie for the worst. Socialized health care, turning his back on Israel-actually he made the four way tie for the worst president right there with that achievement. Where is he during WikiLeaks? Need I say more!

    December 6, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  2. eric cohen

    I personally think that you & the naysayers are in for the whipping of a lietime! to think that you can honestly compare 2 years of progress to 8 years of WHAT THE HECK! What's more surprising is now republicians have grown a backbone! where were they under the previous administration? BUNCH OF YELLOW BELLY DOGS WHO SOLD THEIR SOULS! MAY YOU ALL BURN IN HELL!

    December 6, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  3. erica

    Bush in the top...seriously? In the last decade the whole nation has economically went down the hole and 2 of the worst presidents have a popularity vote??? WAKE UP AMERICA what are you doing???????

    December 6, 2010 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  4. kyle

    Nixon should be ahead of dubya, worst President ever.

    December 6, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  5. Phil in KC

    Reagan second? Shows you can fool most of the people most of the time. I don't think his record was all that good. Let's not forget that 'trickle down economics' and Reagan economics are one and the same. And middle class people are still being trickled on by the Republicans. Neither did Reagan end the cold war by going to Berlin and giving a speech. Anyone who thinks so is terribly naive.

    December 6, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  6. NC

    History will reveal the longer a President is out of Office approval ratings will usually go up. President Obama is the 12th. President during my lifetime and years from now he will have a higher approval rating.

    December 6, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  7. Peace

    I get difficulties to understand how the comparison can be done between these former presidents. Every individual carried his task at different times and with different problems to tackle. It was also the time when the means of people getting information was very scarce. If it could happen that they come to power now, I wonder whether the ratings will still be the same!!

    December 6, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  8. Peter E

    Well, Kennedy was the only one who specifically prevented a nuclear war and saved millions of American lives...

    December 6, 2010 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  9. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Proof that Americans have short term memories and are far too forgiving... Bush at 47% already even though he left office at 34%, and before that his historical low was around 27%? Reagan second most popular despite his scandalous handling of the economy as well as the Iran-Contra affair? Even republicans should be surprised by Carter's 52%, despite their constant revision of his image, character assasination, and insistance that somehow he was the worst president in the history of the world.
    Americans really are far too forgiving.

    December 6, 2010 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
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