Political News

How the country feels about the members of The Presidents' Club

Posted December 6, 2018 1:58 p.m. EST

— All five living US presidents attended George H.W. Bush's memorial service Wednesday, the first time since last year's inauguration in which Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were in the same place as President Donald Trump.

The novelty of what's commonly called "The Presidents' Club" is all the more intriguing because of the history that led each of them to the Oval Office. While most of the former presidents have made amends, they all reached office by criticizing at least one other member of the group to some degree.

That goes double for Trump, who lambasted both his predecessor Clinton and his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, and the icy lack of interaction between them Wednesday exemplifies that not all those wounds have -- or may ever heal.

Beyond their evolving feelings for one another, the presidents have all seen the public's feelings for them change in a positive direction.

Before he passed away, George H.W. Bush had the highest approval rating among that select group of living former presidents.

With only two years on the job, Trump's approval ratings have remained relatively static between 35% and 45%.

Each of the other presidents experienced periods of great popularity and unpopularity.

The late Bush had one of the highest-ever recorded approval ratings as President -- 89% in early March 1991 (according to Gallup presidential approval surveys). That was just after Operation Desert Storm and a ceasefire was arranged between the US-led military coalition and Iraq. At the time, 89% was the highest presidential approval rating in Gallup's history. That high has only ever been broken by his own son, whose all-time high approval rating (90%) came after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.

However, the Bushes also suffered two of the lowest ratings. The younger Bush faced the lowest low of the five living Presidents when only 25% of the country approved of his job in October 2008, just before the election of Obama. But that's only the third lowest worst approval of all presidents (living and deceased): Harry S. Truman hit 22% in February 1952 towards the end of his presidency, and Richard Nixon hit 24% in August 1974 just as he was resigning from office.

Of the living former presidents, Clinton, despite being the only modern President to be impeached, had the highest average approval rating, according to Gallup (55%). His average approval was followed by Bush (49%), Obama (48%), and Carter (46%).

Obama's approval started higher than Trump's (around 65%), but there were weeks during his presidency where Obama's approval was lower; 40% was his lowest, according to Gallup.

Of all presidents since Carter, Ronald Reagan, who died in 2004, had the biggest increase in his approval post-presidency. In a Gallup poll taken in February of this year, Reagan had the highest approval for how he handled his job as President. His average approval rating as President was 53%, but it climbed to 72% approval in 2018. Obama also had a substantial increase, up 15 percentage points in the two years since he left the White House.

The late Bush had the smallest increase in his approval, mostly because his average approval was the highest out of this group (61% during his presidency). In 2018, he hit 64% approval, a three-point increase that placed him behind only John F. Kennedy and Reagan among the 10 most recent former presidents.