By 1990 the deficit had grown to three times its size in 1980. The federal government shut down for three days and the Democratic majority in Congress eventually forced Bush to raise tax revenues. But events of the Gulf War pushed economic issues out of the news and Bush ended up with an overall approval rating of 60.9 percent for his term in office, second only to Kennedy.
After three Republican presidential terms and the economy again in recession, two candidates ran against President Bush in the 1992 election: Arkansas Democratic Governor Bill Clinton and Independent businessman Ross Perot. Bush's 89 percent approval ratings following the Persian Gulf War made him look like a certain winner, but the economy trumped his approval ratings at the ballot box. Clinton prevailed with 43 percent of the popular vote to Bush’s 37.5 percent and Perot’s 18.9 percent. Ross Perot capitalized on the economic woe in his 1992 campaign and ran again in 1996. He siphoned an 8.4 percent popular vote as incumbent President Clinton defeated Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole 49.2 percent to 40.7 percent.
The Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus between the years 1998 and 2000, the longest economic expansion period in US history. Only the second president to be impeached by the House, the Senate failed to muster the constitutional two-thirds majority requirement to convict and remove an officeholder. Despite the impeachment and another government shutdown, Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any US president since World War II at 60.6 percent. His highest approval rating scored 73 percent and his lowest recorded 37 percent.
Economy tends to trump political events no matter how much of a splash those events create. Kennedy’s high rating occurred because he died in office before his first term ended. Reagan’s approval rating of 52.8 percent falls behind the 55.1 percent approval rating of LBJ and Bill Clinton, who tie for 3rd place. George H.W. Bush comes in second to JFK at 60.9 percent. Those are the numbers.
Here are some more. Take a look at the disapproval ratings for the eight presidents I've discussed. Keep them in mind the next time approval ratings are brought up as some kind of data being foisted off as something significant.
- John Kennedy: 56
- Lyndon Johnson: 35
- Richard Nixon: 24
- Gerald Ford: 37
- Jimmy Carter: 28
- Ronald Reagan: 38
- George H.W. Bush: 29
- Bill Clinton: 37
The public changes its mind with regularity and presidents are just not that popular. Why anyone would want such a job is another question.