Former President Barack Obama left office with a 59 percent approval rating — one of the highest final ratings for an outgoing president. But Obama’s average overall approval was actually lower than most recent presidents, including George W. Bush.
Despite leaving office on such a high note, Obama’s overall average job approval from 2009 through 2017 was 47.9 percent, compared to 49.4 percent for Bush. The irony, of course, is that, while Bush fared a bit better overall, he left office with just 34 percent of Americans approving of his performance — a much lower proportion than Obama’s 59 percent exit approval.
As Gallup noted, Obama’s polling history has been quite complex, bouncing around since he took office back in 2009:
But by the end of his first year, his approval ratings fell to near 50% and dropped below the majority level early in his second year. After his first year, he received sustained majority approval only once more during his first term in office. Fortunately for him, that came during his 16th quarter in office — around the time he was re-elected in the fall of 2012. Shortly after his second term began, his support dipped back into the 40s and did not return to the majority level again until his final year in office. His 32nd and final quarter job approval average of 55.7% was his third-highest as president.
On average, just three presidents since 1945 came in with a lower average job approval than Obama and they were: Gerald Ford (47.2 percent), Jimmy Carter (45.5 percent) and Harry Truman 45.4 percent).
Meanwhile, the three presidents with the highest approval ratings overall were John F. Kennedy (70.1 percent), Dwight D. Eisenhower (65 percent) and George H.W. Bush (60.9 percent). See the table below for all of the averages:
Getting back to Obama’s ratings, there are a few additional elements worth noting. Unlike other presidents such as George W. Bush, Obama never experienced extreme lows or highs; his highest job approval came at the start of his presidency, when he was measured to have a 69 percent favorability rating.
Interestingly, though, Obama is one of only three presidents since 1945 never to cross the 70 percent threshold, with only Reagan and Nixon finding themselves in the same situation. Gallup described Obama’s average polling number as “lackluster,” but said his strong outgoing support could end up holding more weight.
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