5 Presidents With the Worst Job Approval Ratings

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President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings have been trending upward the past couple of years; a Gallup Poll in late April found 51 percent of Americans approved of his performance. That’s a marked improvement from his low-water mark of 38 percent in September 2014. But with only a few months remaining in office, President Obama is unlikely to break out of the pack of modern presidents with the worst job approval ratings. Gallup has extensive polling data on presidents in the post-World War II era. Here’s a look at the five presidents with the worst average approval ratings during their terms.

 

5. Richard Nixon (49 Percent Job Approval Rating)

Richard Nixon's high public approval ratings plummeted as the Watergate scandal grew.

Richard Nixon’s high job approval ratings plummeted as the Watergate scandal grew.

Nixon’s job approval ratings peaked at 67 percent in late January 1973. In a strange coincidence, that poll ended one day before former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord Jr. were convicted of several crimes in an incident involving the Watergate scandal. As details emerged about Nixon and his aides’ knowledge and involvement in that crime, the president’s ratings plummeted. At the time he resigned from office in August 1974, his job approval rating stood at 24 percent.

 

4. Gerald Ford (47.2 Percent Job Approval Rating)

President Gerald Ford's pardon of former President Richard Nixon angered many people.

Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon hurt his approval ratings.

Ford had a big strike against him in the ratings game the day he entered the White House — he had not been elected to the position, so he didn’t have a base of popular support. His ratings cratered when he made the unpopular decision to pardon President Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in the White House.

 

3. Barack Obama (47 Percent Job Approval Rating)

President Barack Obama is extremely popular with Democrats, less so with independents and Republicans.

President Barack Obama is extremely popular with Democrats, less so with independents and Republicans.

Not surprisingly, President Obama’s ratings vary greatly by party affiliation; Democrats in recent polling give him an 87 percent approval rating, while only 13 percent of Republicans approve. By comparison, President George W. Bush, widely reviled in Democratic circles, rarely reached that low in approval ratings with Democratic voters. While some Republicans are undoubtedly pleased Obama’s numbers are so poor, he still has a decisive edge in job approval marks over the Republican-controlled Congress, which is in the 15 percent range.

 

2. Jimmy Carter (45.5 Percent Job Approval Rating)

A recession, inflation and hostage crisis spelled doom for President Jimmy Carter in the polls.

A number of issues hurt Jimmy Carter’s popularity and made him a one-term president.

As with most of the other presidents in the post-war era, Carter’s high mark in job approval (75 percent) came in his first few months in office. That, of course, was well before the Iranian Hostage Crisis, 20 percent interest rates, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and all the other woes that helped turn Carter into a one-term president.

 

1. Harry Truman (45.4 Percent Job Approval Rating)

Harry Truman's popularity plummeted as a result of the Korean War.

Harry Truman generally did a good job in office, but the unpopular Korean War hurt his approval numbers.

Truman is an excellent example of why public approval ratings may be vastly over-rated and irrelevant measures of a president’s effectiveness. Most historians look back favorably on Truman’s job in the White House. He helped shape the nation’s policy to help contain the Soviet threat in the early days of the Cold War. He spoke out about segregation, and desegregated the military and civil service. He was a genuinely likable figure, a man of the people. But the Korean War dragged Truman’s approval ratings down. In 1952, when Truman’s approval ratings were at their lowest point, some 50 percent of Americans thought the United States had made a mistake going to war in Korea.

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