Warming on W.: More Americans like George W. Bush than dislike

Washington CNN —  

The latest CNN/ORC Poll found warning signs for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but for his brother, former President George W. Bush, the poll reveals some happier news: For the first time in a decade, more Americans say they like him than dislike him.

According to the poll, 52% of adults had a favorable impression of George W. Bush, 43% unfavorable. When Bush left office in 2009, only about a third of Americans said they had a positive opinion of him. In a February 2009 poll conducted about a month after he left office, Republicans were the only group among which a majority said they had a favorable view of Bush. Even among self-described conservatives, only 50% had a favorable take on the former president and champion of “compassionate conservatism.”

Bush’s overall favorability has remained well below 50% for much of his time as a presidential alum. This new poll presents a notable shift.

As of a year ago, 46% had a favorable take on the former president, 51% an unfavorable one. Since then, Bush has gained in esteem among men (up 11 points), Republicans (up 10 points), those with household incomes under $50,000 (up 10 points), younger adults (up 9 points among those under age 50) and suburbanites (up 8 points).

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Bush remains broadly unpopular among groups that made up his main opponents during his time in office: Democrats (70% unfavorable), liberals (68% unfavorable) non-whites (54% unfavorable), and those under age 35 (53% unfavorable).

But even among these groups, he’s gained some ground since leaving office. In February 2009, 85% of Democrats and 90% of liberals had a negative take on the president, as did 75% of non-whites and more than 6 in 10 young adults.

Why the shift? Historically, the further a former president gets from the day-to-day drama of Washington politics, the warmer the country’s feelings toward him have become. Take Jimmy Carter. Just after he lost the 1980 election, a CBS News/New York Times poll found just 39% of voters had a favorable view of him. Now, many years later, a majority views him positively.

Bush’s father’s favorability ratings followed a similar trajectory. Though just 47% held a favorable opinion shortly after he lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, he’s gained significant ground in the years since and is now viewed favorably by almost two-thirds of Americans.

Once George W. Bush left office, he continued to shoulder the bulk of the blame for the nation’s struggling economy throughout much of President Barack Obama’s time in office. A CNN/ORC poll in January 2014 found even then, five years after Bush left office, more Americans said Bush and the Republicans were responsible for current economic problems than said Obama and the Democrats were.

This new CNN/ORC poll suggests that on one issue, at least, the blame may be shifting. Asked whose policies were more at fault for the current problems the U.S. faces in Iraq, 44% blamed Obama, 43% Bush.

The CNN/ORC Poll was conducted by telephone May 29-31 among a random national sample of 1,025 adults.