George W. Bush Most Unpopular Living Ex-President -- But More Popular Now Than When In Office

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Bush, Clinton and Obama
Bush, Clinton and Obama

Three-and-half years has not done much to improve the American public's view of former President George W. Bush, according to a new CNN/ORC poll, which concluded he is the only living ex-president with an under-50 percent approval rating.

Only 43 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the 43rd president, compared with 54 percent who said they did not approve of him, the poll found. While that figure may be low, it actually marks a distinct improvement from 2009, when he left office with an approval rating hovering in the low 30s.

The mention of Bush's name appears to prompt at least a few people to take a more positive view of their current financial situation, said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The polling results seem to support Holland's point. When asked whether they were better or worse off than they were four years ago -- before the inauguration of President Barack Obama -- Americans were almost evenly split 44 percent to 43 percent. But, when asked specifically whether their situation is better compared to four years ago when Bush was president, there was a small but noticeable gap -- 47 percent said they were better off, compared to 41 percent who said they were worse off.

Every other living ex-president polled considerably better. Bush's own father, George H.W. Bush, received a 59 percent approval rating; only 34 percent said they had an unfavorable view of the first President Bush, despite the fact that he was not elected to a second term.

Meanwhile, the poll indicated that two-thirds of respondents held a positive view of former President Bill Clinton, who had a 66 percent approval rating. The figure is unchanged from Clinton's final job rating before leaving office in 2000, according to Gallup.

Clinton had the highest final job approval rating among presidents since the end of World War II. He is followed by Ronald Reagan (63 percent), Dwight Eisenhower (59 percent) and George H.W. Bush (56 percent).

Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, who both died while in office, were not included in the Gallup ratings.

While former President Jimmy Carter is often a whipping boy for Republicans, who often demean the legacy of the one-term president, the CNN/ORC survey found that Americans have warmed up to the Democrat since he was defeated by Reagan in 1980. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they held a positive view of Carter, who has devoted himself to human rights advocacy work since leaving the White House, compared to about 30 percent who viewed him negatively.

Like Bush, Carter ended his term with a 34 percent approval rating. Among modern presidents, former President Richard Nixon has the lowest approval rating on record. Only 24 percent of Americans approved of the Republican president when he resigned from his post in 1974 at the height of the notorious Watergate scandal.

Although President Obama had a 69 percent approval rating in the weeks after his inauguration in January 2009, that number soon plummeted to a 49 percent average during his first term, according to Gallup. About 46 percent of Americans currently approve of the president's job performance.

The CNN/ORC poll was conducted May 29-31 with a sample of 1,009 adults and a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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