Whether he likes it or not, President Donald Trump is historically unpopular. Slightly more than two weeks after his swearing-in, Trump has earned the distinction of having the highest disapproval ratings of any U.S. commander-in-chief this early in an administration since pollsters began tracking approval ratings during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency.
Though Trump can attack these numbers and call them "fake news" all he wants, it doesn't make them any less true. Presidential polling has been an important marker of public opinion since the 1930s — and, much like the opinions they've tracked, the numbers haven't always been kind.
Poll numbers can often vary wildly throughout a president's tenure; President George W. Bush, for instance, had a record 92% approval rating in October 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, but later scored the lowest approval rating ever recorded — 19% — in February 2008. Averaging such numbers can paint a general picture of the public's opinion regarding modern U.S. presidents.
Who were the most popular U.S. presidents?
Though his tenure lasted just under three years, President John F. Kennedy earned the highest poll numbers of any recent commander-in-chief, with an average approval rating of 70.53%. His lowest approval rating, which came just months before his assassination in September 1963, was still a healthy 56%, as recorded by the Roper Center.
Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed the second-highest overall approval rating with an average of 64.9% during his eight years in office. Eisenhower's approval ratings only twice dipped below 50%, as he earned a 48% rating in March 1958 and a 49% rating in July 1960.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt holds the third-best ranking of all modern U.S. presidents. Polling was only conducted in the last seven years of his 12-year presidency, during which he had an average 64.49% approval rating. His ratings reached their highest point of 84% in January 1942, immediately following the country's entry into World War II, and only dipped below 50% once (to 48%) in August 1939.
Who were the least popular U.S. presidents?
The president with the lowest overall polling numbers was FDR's successor, Harry Truman, who left the presidency with an average 42.6% approval rating. Though Truman once enjoyed a stunning 87% approval rating in June 1945, his numbers would fluctuate wildly throughout his presidency. Before leaving office, February 1952 polls showed Truman with just a 22% approval rating.
Tying for second-worst polling averages are presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Each received an average approval rating of 45.78%. While Ford's approval ratings were fairly consistent — hovering between 40% and 50% during his short stint in office — Carter's were much more varied. After reaching his lowest approval rating of 28% in June 1979, Carter rebounded to a 58% approval rating just a few months later in January 1980.
However, approval ratings for Truman, Ford and Carter in the weeks following their inaugurations were at least 65% — a full 25% higher than Trump's.
Of course, many American presidents preceded FDR. In addition to JFK, Eisenhower and FDR, Americans historically regard Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt to be among the best commanders-in-chief. In a 2007 Rasmussen poll, all four were viewed favorably by at least 80% of Americans.
Historically unpopular presidents, as judged by a 2009 C-SPAN poll surveying historians and political observers, include James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin D. Pierce, Warren G. Harding and Millard Fillmore.
Of course, a president's popularity can change between when they're in office and how they're remembered by history. Presidents Bush and Richard Nixon weren't among the bottom three presidents by polling data, but both were ranked least popular in the Rasmussen poll. The Rasmussen poll was conducted during Bush's presidency; however, he was also judged poorly by the later C-SPAN poll, which ranked him 36th out of 42 presidents.
Other presidents, meanwhile, are better appreciated once their term ends. Though Truman received the lowest average polls during his administration, he's remembered as one of the better U.S. presidents and ranked fifth in the C-SPAN poll.
And while history has yet to judge former President Barack Obama, early numbers show him to be among the most popular outgoing presidents in history.