Should former presidents publicly disagree with the current POTUS? Americans tend to say yes

Linley SandersData Journalist
February 02, 2021, 8:27 PM UTC

President Donald Trump has not spoken publicly since he skipped the inauguration of President Joe Biden and departed the White House on January 20. This silence follows an “unwritten rule” of ex-presidents: to not speak negatively about their successors.

That informal guideline may be a little outdated. The so-called tradition was broken a handful of times during the Trump Administration, and several ex-presidents — including George W. Bush and Theodore Roosevelt — have criticized their successors. Further, a YouGov poll shows that Americans do not expect former leaders to remain deferential during policy disagreements. Two in five (41%) Americans believe that former presidents should publicly disagree with the current president on policy choices. Three in 10 adults believe they should not, and 28% are uncertain.

Americans who identify as very conservative (56%) or very liberal (51%) are especially likely to say former presidents should disagree with the current White House occupant. A plurality of those who are liberal (41%) or conservative (45%) say that policy disagreements should be shared. Moderates are split on this issue: 38% believe in vocalizing dissent, while 35% do not.

About half of Republicans (49%) say ex-presidents should publicly oppose the current president when they disagree on policy, compared to 41% of Independents and 40% of Democrats - although in all cases people are more likely to think they should be able to publicly disagree than not. 

For more information on this dataset, email uspress@yougov.com 

Methodology: 13,825 US adults aged 18+ were asked, “Should former presidents publicly disagree with the current president's policy choices?” The response options were: “Yes,” “No,” and “Don’t know.” The survey was conducted between January 21 – 22, 2021. The responding sample is weighted to provide a representative sample of the United States.  

Image: Getty