Friday, June 01, 2007

Presidential Job Approval

It’s Friday, and that means Fun with Numbers time!

One of the most common political numbers touted by media, is the President’s Job Approval. It’s not well understood, frankly. Generally, the media reports a JA as if it were a referendum on an particular issue or personal scorecard, when in fact it is neither. For example, a composite of most major opinion polls gives President Bush a 32% Job Approval rating. If Bush were running again for President and got 32% of the Popular Vote, that would be a poor performance. However, we would have to consider the situation in better context if we wanted to draw that analogy. Would this hypothetical election be against a field of GOP candidates, like a primary? If so, 32% would be enough to win many such primaries. Would it be a one-on-one match-up in a general election against a Democrat? In such a case, the conditions change radically, as many voters who are not especially thrilled with a President, may choose to support him because the alternative is simply not palatable. The Job Approval numbers cannot, therefore, properly be used to suggest election conditions.

Also, Job Approval numbers are not static. In fact, you need to consider a variety of them to really understand what’s going on. What I mean, can be seen by looking at the term average approval ratings, the term lows, highs, and mean-values. This collection can be quite illuminating. For this article, I am taking data from the FDR through GW Bush Administrations. I used and recommend the Roper Center for accessing the requisite data. For this article I considered only the Gallup polls, for reasons of consistent questioning, historical constancy of results, and for a stable base of comparison.

First, let’s rank the President’s average ratings. From lowest to highest, here’s how they did:

Truman..........44.5%
Carter..........45.9%
Ford............47.8%
Nixon...........49.2%
Reagan..........52.5%
Clinton.........54.7%
L Johnson.......54.8%
GW Bush.........54.8%
GHW Bush........62.1%
Eisenhower......64.5%
F Roosevelt.....65.2%
Kennedy.........69.3%


Interesting, to note the difference between a President’s average popularity and his effectiveness. Next, let’s consider the Presidents in terms of their lowest Job Approval tracked by Galllup:

Truman..........22%
Nixon...........23%
Carter..........28%
GHW Bush........29%
GW Bush.........32%
L Johnson.......35%
Reagan..........35%
Ford............37%
Clinton.........39%
F Roosevelt.....48%
Eisenhower......48%
Kennedy.........56%

That’s intriguing. Don’t forget that JFK and Ford never finished a full term, and Gallup does not have numbers available from before 1938 on Job Approval but it’s interesting that FDR and Eisenhower had a low tide of 48%.

Next, let’s look at the Presidents in terms of their highest Job Approval in Gallup:

Nixon...........67%
Reagan..........68%
Clinton.........68%
Ford............74%
Carter..........75%
Eisenhower......79%
L Johnson.......80%
Kennedy.........80%
F Roosevelt.....84%
Truman..........87%
GHW Bush........89%
GW Bush.........90%

Think about that. Reagan, the best President in the bunch, had a high-tide mark of 68% approval, just ahead of Richard Nixon. And looking at the two Bushes and Harry Truman, it’s also obvious that Job Approval can be highly volatile.

If, just for fun, I mix them all up and count the high, low, and average all together and split the result by three, here’s my least-to-most popular results:

Nixon...........46.05%
Carter..........50.10%
Reagan..........51.75%
Truman..........52.00%
Ford............53.58%
Clinton.........53.80%
LBJ.............56.83%
GW Bush.........59.45%
GHW Bush........59.78%
Eisenhower......63.75%
FDR.............65.80%
JFK.............68.33%

Not what you might expect, is it? And more importantly, those who did the best job, may not show it in simple popularity while they were in office. Just something to think about when we choose the next Oval Office jockey.

2 comments:

Antimedia said...

The first thing that struck me about these numbers is how high JFK's numbers were and how steadily the highs and lows have fallen.

My thesis is that since the assassination of JFK and the belief in a government-sponsored conspiracy to kill him, faith in our government has been gradually but steadily eroding. (I wrote about this on my blog.)

Dan said...

Not at all what I expected (as you can imagine!). Thanks for doing this nifty bit of research.