Most Americans, including Democrats, think Bush 41 was honesty and trustworthy
President George H.W. Bush left office in 1993 with relatively low approval ratings, but today he is remembered positively by members of both parties. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, conducted after his death last Friday, the memory of the 41st President is of a well-liked honest man, who said what he believed, cared about people, and was a strong leader.
By the end of his presidency, just before his defeat by Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, just over a third of Americans approved of the way President Bush was handling his job, according to the CBS News Poll. His approval rating rose to 50% after his election defeat. It is even higher today, with most Republicans and Democrats approving of how he did his job.
When Americans think of President Bush (41) today, they see someone they like. By almost three to one (64% to 23%), they hold a favorable opinion of him. Even Democrats are twice as likely to view him favorably as not (60% of Democrats are favorable, 27% are unfavorable). Six in ten say they liked him as a person – and only 8% did not.
By nearly four to one they describe Bush 41 as “honest and trustworthy” (in contrast, just 30% in this week’s poll describe current President Donald Trump that way). More than twice as many believe the late President said what he really believed as opposed to what he thought people wanted to hear. Democrats and Republicans look at his the same way. Overwhelmingly, both Republicans and Democrats look on Bush as a strong leader.
President Bush may really be the last President who is seen in generally the same light by those who identify with both political parties. While few say he was a “great” President, even fewer (Republicans or Democrats) call him a “failure.” This is not something that can be said about the men who followed him. Republicans give Bill Clinton and Barack Obama negative evaluations, while Democrats say the same about George W. Bush and Donald Trump. And the partisan spread is even greater for the two most recent Presidents: 58% of Republicans call Barack Obama a “failure.” Three-quarters of Democrats say the same about Donald Trump.
For most of the first Bush’s modern predecessors, there are more even-handed ratings. Presidents Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy are viewed similarly by Republicans and Democrats (and all are rated more as above average than below average). While more Democrats than Republicans rate Richard Nixon as “below average,” both parties agree in the general direction of their evaluations. Democrats and Republicans both rate Ronald Reagan positively, though Republicans are overwhelming high in their assessment of him and are far more likely to criticize two Democrats, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson.
George H.W. Bush, as well liked as he is today, isn’t among Americans’ choice for the “greatest” of the Presidents. Americans look further back in the past and to extremely recent days when they answer that question. Ronald Reagan, Bush 41’s predecessor, nudges out Barack Obama and Franklin Roosevelt as the “greatest.” John F. Kennedy and Donald Trump follow.
Half of all Republicans name Reagan, while more than a third of Democrats cite Obama. One in four Republicans believe Donald Trump is the greatest President since 1933.
By six to one, Americans say they look for domestic, not foreign policy, achievements in their judgment of Presidents. Mr. Bush may have wages a successful war in the Persian Gulf, but the last year of his Administration included a major economic recession, leading to his re-election campaign loss. But Americans also want a President who inspires them, not necessarily one who is successful in getting his policies through Congress. For much of his administration, both of those characterizations fit Ronald Reagan.
Republicans are far more interested in legislation than Democrats. But even for them, inspiration matters more. Both of these groups of Republicans choose President Reagan as their “greatest.”