Kennedy remains most popular modern president
December 6th, 2010
11:28 AM ET
11 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. Fair is Fair

    Yep... JFK was a keeper, for sure. As was his brother Bobby. Ted, on the other hand, must have been left on the doorstep of the Kennedy compound.

    December 6, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  2. NVa Native

    Kenneday wasn't perfect but he was among the best because he worked for the benefit of all Americans.
    Something the current Repubs (and some Dems) don't understand.
    Since the 70s the Repubs have been working for the benefit of corporate America – not the citizens of America – by spliting us (America) into smaller groups so they could devide and control.

    December 6, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  3. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    JFK came from a prinicpled background. He did what he thought was correct. There are other presidents that didn't follow the law and should have a negative reflection based on those mistakes. The problem is that every president (despite their mistakes) has done some good. I think we might have an exception for the president that in office for all of a month.

    December 6, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  4. Womble

    The Democratic party has moved so far left since Kennedy it is hardly a conparison to what we have now. He was not for abortion and was not anti-business like Obama who is more like Hugo Chavez than Kennedy. Also Kennedy communicated with the other party to get things accomplished in a bipartisan way which evidently Obama did not learn how do at all those high end prep schools and Harvard.

    December 6, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  5. Rick McDaniel

    Maybe, but I am not blinded by his charisma nor his good looks. The record shows, he was no better than an average President, at best, and the martyrdom bestowed on him, might not have been, if he had lived through his Presidency, as he made many mistakes, in policy, and got us involved in one of the most divisive wars in our history.

    When you look at the record, he gets way more credit than is due.

    December 6, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  6. Brian in ME

    Why in God's name would GWB's approval rating ever go up? Hands down the worst president in my life time

    December 6, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  7. AZ DEM

    I have to agree with Rick McDaniel here...Kennedy is an icon and its mostly due to his assassination it wasn't until 2 years into his term that he began to take on the issues of his time including Civil Rights, and dealing with the Cold War. It appears that his trajectory and his approval with the nation was on the upward swing leading to his assassination BUT had he served out his entire term it is hard to say if he would be as popular as he is today.

    December 6, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  8. Jake

    How can Nixon be last when George Jr. And the rest of his GOP goons got us in two wars for the benefit of big business?

    At least Nixon helped bring China back into our world so that NAFTA could send our jobs over there.

    King George was successful only in making us less safe,liked,and bankrupt. That earns him the worst president of all times for me.

    December 6, 2010 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  9. NVa Native

    The reality is that the current Democratic party has moved so far right they are what was in the past the middle and the right is now predominately a party of the radical right-wing fringe.
    Phalin, Limpball, and the Beckler are true leaders of the mindless minions who are the core of the Republican party – do they seem moderate or centrist to anyone?? Easy answer.

    December 6, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  10. Marcus

    Womble – This is not a FAUX NEWS blog, so please don't expect to be praised due to your baseless rant. Obama is a moderate/center liberal. People on the far right identify it as a 'comunist' (I do wonder how they identify what we call a real comunist...). 'The Party of No' is not a smear nor a false accusation against the Republican Party, actually most Gopers are proud to be called that (since they think that yell 'NO!' to whatever proposition made by the Dems as the only thing that they can do to make the country a better place, for them), so who is not bipartisan again?
    Here we like to check facts and sources, so simply rant and call names won't gonna work, ok?

    December 6, 2010 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  11. John Boehner is the dumbest person to become speaker

    @womble. . .The republican party has moved so far to the fascist right since the 1960's, Ike, Romney and Nixon would be considered progressive by today's right wingnut standards.

    December 6, 2010 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  12. obama

    He's an outstanding president

    December 6, 2010 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  13. Marcus

    Rick McDaniel – He was far from being a perfect guy, BUT the Missile Crisis alone would grant him a place of honor among the POTUS of the 20th Century, not to mention that if he did not started the whole Civil Rights laws in day one of his term, at least HE faced it and started the procedure of those law bills to become reality.
    No POTUS, with the exception of George Washington and (perhaps) Abraham Lincoln (cue to some homeschooled 'scholar' says anything bad about him), was a model of virtue & moral & ethics. NOT A SINGLE ONE beside those two.
    And JFK did earn all the respect he got afterlife (even when his private life became public).

    December 6, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  14. A True Centrist

    "JFK came from a prinicpled background. "

    Ummmm...what? You obviously know very little about the Kennedy family background and the types of people/activities his father (and other family members) was a part of. You also obviously know very little about JFK, the man....most people who met him liked him but "principled" is a stretch (I'm sure Jackie could have told you stories during the day).

    I liked JFK as a President but he made many mistakes in his short term in office. Unlike most politicians, he readily admitted and took ownership for his mistakes (i.e Bay of Pigs) which made him a much more likeable figure than most (i.e. our current and last President). It would have been interesting to see what he would have done with the rest of his time in office (especially with his difficulties with the Vietnam War), but it would have been even more interesting to see what the true talent in the family, Bobby, would have done if he had lived longer.

    As for the greatest President of the modern era, it should no doubt be Reagan. Republican or Democrat, you can not deny that he oversaw the largest economic advancement in the world's history and he brought an end to the Cold War...this even after the disastorous Carter term.

    December 6, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  15. DJ

    George W. Bush is at 47% and obama is at 45%. Does not bode well when the person obama demigogued to get elected is more popular than he is

    December 6, 2010 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  16. Dave, Central Illinois

    Kennedy would be a Republican today – policy wise. Obama will help Carter move up one notch once he is out of office in 2012.

    December 6, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  17. John Boehner is the dumbest person to become speaker

    @DJ. . . There is plenty of time for Obama to become popular like George W. Bush. He just has to start two unfunded wars, (one unnecessary), give unfunded tax cuts to the wealthiest to further balloon our debt, create an unfunded drug program, lose 8 million jobs during his two terms, bail out the too big to fail, and wiretap our citizens. Attacking the constitution and putting our grandchildren in charge of paying back the debt will make President Obama as popular as the Texas Tornado.

    December 6, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  18. tony

    i think it's funny Kennedy is still considered one of the modern presidents since it's been 50 years since he was elected to office, but regardless it's the Kennedy myth that after all these years is remembered and revered as should be for a man that was taken at the height of his popularity, before the Vietnam war would of made him as popular as Johnson.

    December 6, 2010 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  19. thor

    And he would not reconize what is now the Democrat Party.

    December 6, 2010 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  20. terry, va

    Kennedy was a terrible president that was extremely weak on foreign policy. The only reason why people think well of him is because he was shot. He would have been as bad as Carter and Obummie had he served a full term.

    December 6, 2010 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  21. Womble

    Marcus, I do not seek nor want your approval or your loony friends. I know the truth is especially painful to you but it is even harder for the people out there without work right now due to our feckless leader. Even MSNBC is calling Obama incompetent and inept now so until you own CNN you will continue to see my factual insertions.

    December 6, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  22. Nancy Pelosi, the wicked witch of the west, the DemocRAT gift that just keeps on giving

    Ah yes... The good old days when the DemocRATS weren't socialists like today's DemocRATS. The destructive Progressives have taken over the party and destroyed it.

    December 6, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  23. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Marcus I'm with you on Lincoln, but Washington the slave-owner not so much.
    Quite frankly, based on the unprecedented inquisition of our current President, and hte GOP's determination to find ANYTHING unworthy to pin on him, I'd say that morally and ethically President Obama ranks at the very top of this list.
    If there was some dirt we'd heard about it by now.
    Reagan was very popular, but he grew the deficit by more than any other preceding President from Carter forward. It's easy to be popular when the country is doing well, but give me somebody willing to make the TOUGH decisions at the risk of his own next election, and when it is to benefit the majority of the voters, and I will show you a true leader. President Barack Hussein Obama fits that bill.

    December 6, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  24. megan

    prez obama will rank no.2after 2016.

    December 6, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  25. jfb

    makes you wonder if kennedy did not have the soft press coverage where he may have landed. womanizer an the guy that got us more involved in vietnam. not exactly stellar

    December 6, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
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