The Worst President since World War II?


A lot of media attention has been given this past week to a Quinnipiac Poll (released on July 2) that ranks Obama as the worst President since World War II. It’s the kind of headline grabber that conservatives love to latch on to. But if one examines the polling data closely, a rather different picture emerges.

The Quinnipiac Poll listed the last 12 U.S. presidents beginning with Harry Truman (1945-1953), and asked respondents to say which of the 12 they considered to be the worst.

33% picked Barack Obama. The next choice was George W. Bush at 28%.

What do these poll results tell us? It may be simply this: As one of my fellow bloggers has observed,

Whoever is President at the time wins this [distinction]. When this poll was done in 2006, George W. Bush won it. It’s kind of expected and comes with the territory; the current President is always the worst, and then the longer they are away from office, the better they get.

We can see how this is so by placing the 2006 and 2014 polling results side by side:

                             July 2006                                                             July 2014

  1. George W. Bush (34 percent)             1.   Barack Obama (33 percent)
  2. Richard Nixon (17 percent)                2.  George W. Bush (28 percent)
  3. Bill Clinton (16 percent)                     3.   Richard Nixon (13 percent)
  4. Jimmy Carter (13 percent)                  4.   Jimmy Carter (8 percent)

In the most recent poll Barack Obama has (barely) pushed George W. Bush aside as the worst ranked president, followed by Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. One also notes that in the years between these two polls the number of people rating each of these past presidents as worst actually declined. (Bush from 34% to 28%; Nixon from 17% to 13%; Carter from 13% to 8%) Bill Clinton seems to have been rehabilitated the most, as he now disappears from the list.

Generally speaking, the passage of time seems to soften people’s negative judgments of past administrations. As the New York Post reports,

The survey itself appears prone to let people vent their opposition to a current White House occupant.

Thus, Obama

can take solace in the fact that presidents usually see their numbers rise after they leave office.

In capitalizing on the headline of Obama being the worst president, most media accounts have neglected to add that the Quinnipiac Poll also asked the respondents to say which of these 12 presidents they considered to be the best.

As the best president, Obama ranks 4th behind Ronald Reagan (35%), Bill Clinton (18%) and John Kennedy (15%) receiving 8% of the vote. George W. Bush, by comparison, receives only 1%. Reagan, Clinton and Kennedy received similar votes of approval in the 2006 survey (with 28%, 25% and 18% respectively) while George W. Bush was ranked best by only 3%. (Oops! Confidence in Bush’s presidency actually went down after he left office.)

What this seems to imply is that for all of the present criticism of Barack Obama, he ranks much better in people’s minds than George W. Bush. And that is something the conservative media would rather not report. So don’t expect to see that reported in their coverage.

When the Quinnipiac data is broken down by political affiliation, we find that the results are strongly polarized. 66% of Republican respondents view Reagan as the best president since World War II while only 6% if Democrats do. 34% of Democrats rate Bill Clinton as the best president while only 4% of Republicans do. And 18% of Democrats view Obama as the best president while only 4% of Republicans do. On the negative side, 54% of Democrats see George W. Bush as the worst president since World War II while only 5% of Republicans do, and 63% of Republicans view Obama as the worst president while only 4% of Democrats do. The highly partisan responses are plainly evident.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House in WashingtonThe Quinnipiac Poll also rates perceptions of Barack Obama’s handling of various key issues. 55% give him a negative rating for his handling of the economy, 57% rate him negatively on foreign policy, 58% on health care, 40% on the environment, and 51% on his handling of terrorism.

This is not surprising as

the conservative media constantly sends out negative criticisms of the president’s performance on every conceivable issue and rarely has anything good to say about him. Faced with an unrelenting barrage of negative new feeds most people will conclude that the reports must to some degree be correct.

But Barack Obama actually has a long list of accomplishments to his credit. We should not overlook the fact that he brought the American economy out of its greatest financial crisis in 80 years. He has slashed the annual deficit he inherited by over 50%. During his time in office he has also overseen the creation of over 4.5 million jobs. And with the passage of the Affordable Care Act he has accomplished what no other president has been able to do since the goal of providing universal health coverage was introduced by Richard Nixon over 40 years ago.

In commenting on why the Obama administration doesn’t get more credit for delivering such good news, Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast says that it is largely because

Liberals don’t speak as one big fat propagandistic voice on this subject in remotely the same way conservatives do when a Republican president is in power. …

Imagine that a Republican president produced 45 straight months of job growth coming off the worst financial crisis since the Depression. Lord, we’d never hear the end of it from Fox and Limbaugh and even from CNBC.

I can’t argue with that. Obama clearly is not getting the credit he deserves.

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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