At the Same Point in his Second Term – and Nine Months Before He Resigned – President Nixon Had Better Job Ratings Than President Obama Has Now

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – December 20, 2013 – During a president’s first term, so much of his agenda is geared towards one thing – re-election. What will he do to help and not hurt those chances? Once a president begins his second term that focus is gone, and during the first half he is probably focused on two things – his legacy and helping his party earn seats in Congress during the upcoming mid-term elections. Looking at the past four two-term presidents, each had ups and downs during their 8 years and, at the end of the first years of their second terms, many also had very different approval numbers.

    For President Obama, he ends this year with two big concerns – health care and the issues surrounding the rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s website, along with the National Security Agency’s listening to calls and reading emails of citizens. And, of course, the economy.

    In 2005, George W. Bush was overseeing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amid questions about why troops were sent to Iraq in the first place. He also had to deal with the reaction to Katrina. Going back 40 years, Richard Nixon was dealing with Watergate and a crisis in the Middle East. And, none of these three men had a great year 5 of their respective presidencies, and it shows in their job ratings. For President Nixon, 37% of Americans gave him positive ratings on his overall job in November of 1973 while 34% gave positive marks to President Bush in November, 2005 and 34% give positive ratings to President Obama this month.

    The most recent results come from The Harris Poll® of 2,311 adults surveyed online between December 11 and 17, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

    The two other recent two term presidents definitely had better year fives. For President Bill Clinton, he was just a month out from the Monica Lewinsky scandal breaking and the economy was going very well. For Ronald Reagan, 1985 brought the beginning of Glasnost and the first meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev; oh, and while Iran Contra did occur, it was not yet public knowledge. In November of 1997, almost three in five Americans (58%) gave President Clinton positive ratings, while in November, 1985 over two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) gave President Reagan positive marks on the overall job he was doing.

    Overall Direction of the Country

    For some of these same points in time, there are corresponding numbers for how Americans think the country as a whole is doing. And, these tend to correlate with opinion of the president with one exception. For President Reagan’s term, half of U.S. adults in December, 1985 believed things in the country were going in the right direction. For the two later points in time, two-thirds of Americans believed things in the country were going off on the wrong track (68% in November, 2005 and 67% in December, 2013). And, while almost two-thirds gave President Clinton positive ratings in November of 1997, over half (56%) of Americans believed things were going off on the wrong track a month later while 39% thought things were going in the right direction.

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    TABLE 1


    How would you rate the overall job President Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, or Nixon is doing?

    Base: All adults






    President Barack Obama (December, 2013)



    President George W. Bush (November, 2005)



    President Bill Clinton (November, 1997)



    President Ronald Reagan (November, 1985)



    President Richard Nixon (November, 1973)



    Note: Not sure responses not shown

    Positive = excellent or pretty good. Negative = only fair or poor.


    TABLE 2


    Generally speaking, would you say things in the country are going in the right direction or have they pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?

    Base: All adults


    Right Direction

    Wrong Track



    December, 2013



    November, 2005



    December, 1997



    December, 1985



    Note: Not sure responses not shown



    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between December 11 and 17, 2013 among 2,311 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

    The Harris Poll® #100, December 20, 2013

    By Regina A. Corso, SVP, Harris Poll and Public Relations, Harris Interactive

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