When judging Presidents, most people rate the past higher than the present

October 25, 2017, 6:45 PM GMT+0

51% of Democrats now have a favorable opinion of George W. Bush

Former Presidents are often evaluated both by how well they did in office, and by how they act and what they say today. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, majorities view George W. Bush and Barack Obama favorably – which is not necessarily how they thought about both men during their respective terms. In the last week, both men have criticized the current White House incumbent, though neither mentioned his name. Bush’s criticisms were implicit while Obama’s were more direct.

A majority have an unfavorable opinion of the current White House occupant, a quite different view from their evaluations of his two predecessors.

When George W. Bush left office in 2009, just 26% of Americans in a CBS News/New York Times Poll viewed him favorably. As he was about to leave office in January, Obama was liked by about half of those in the Economist/YouGov Polls, just about the same rating as he receives today. Fewer had held a favorable view of him at various times earlier in his Administration.

Obama’s ratings then and now clearly are affected by partisanship. Only one in five Republicans held a positive assessment of President Obama in January, about the same percentage of Republicans as have positive ratings of him now.

Democrats today, perhaps partly in response to the recent Bush criticisms of President Trump, have turned around in their assessments of the 43rd President. Just 7% of Democrats had a favorable rating of George W. Bush when he left office; now, half do. Republicans have not changed much in how they evaluate their fellow Republican.

Americans view the current President through distinctly partisan eyes. 86% of Republicans have a favorable rating of Donald Trump, compared with just 7% of Democrats. His overall approval rating remains at 37%, near his all-time low.

Donald Trump also fares poorly on some personality traits. When the public is asked to compare him with other Presidents who have served since World War II (a group divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans), many rate President Trump more negatively than his predecessors. A majority (including one in five Republicans) see President Trump as less organized than other Presidents and 41% say he does not work as hard as previous Presidents. Only 24% describe him as a harder worker.

Some of this criticism have to do with his temperament and perhaps his impulsiveness. Less than a third of the public views Donald Trump as having the temperament to be President, though most Republicans say he does. And 81% say he does not consider what he says before he speaks, with nearly two-thirds of Republicans agreeing with the majority on this question. More than half (53%) in this poll say the President mostly has bad judgment, and only 22% believe he uses Twitter appropriately. [In the YouGov tweet index, more tweets receive negative assessments than positive ones.]

Three in four say the President says things – at least sometimes – that may be wrong. A majority of Republicans agree.

But more Republicans are willing to attribute those misstatements to accidents than to believe they were made on purpose. Democrats, who think the President’s inaccuracies occur more often, are more likely to say the inaccuracies were said on purpose.

Looking ahead, the public may be getting ready for even more fireworks from the President this week. Americans don’t expect recent criticisms made by the two former Presidents – as well as recent negative assessments made by two retiring Republican Senators, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Tennessee’s Bob Corker – to sit well with President Trump. Americans of all parties don’t believe the President handles criticism well.

For more results, visit this week's Toplines or Full Tab Report.