There’s a new Quinnipiac poll shooting around the Internet this morning that has a shocking headline: Americans think Barack Obama is the worst modern-day president. "Over the span of 69 years of American history and 12 presidencies, President Barack Obama finds himself with President George W. Bush at the bottom of the popularity barrel," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement.
At first take, that’s a shocking finding, particularly after the events that unfolded under Obama’s predecessor. But you shouldn’t take this poll very seriously. It may make for great headlines, but it doesn’t actually mean that much.
The first thing to remember is that presidential approval ratings almost always rise once they leave office. In 2013, Gallup released polling data on John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. All saw their approval ratings increase after their presidencies.
Despite the fact that millions of Americans still blame George W. Bush for the weak recovery, even he has seen his approval rating tick up in recent years. As the current president, Obama has not yet had the opportunity to capture this post-presidency favorability boost. Five years from now, Americans will almost certainly look back with fonder memories of his time in office. Note that when Quinnipiac ran an identical poll, in the second term of Bush’s presidency, Americans rated him as the worst modern-day president—by basically the same percentage (34 percent) as they currently rate Obama (33 percent).
The Quinnipiac poll, like others we’ve seen recently, has some genuinely bad news for Obama. Recent foreign policy events in Iraq and Ukraine and the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs have cast a negative light on his presidency. Quinnipiac conducted the poll during the past week—one of the lowest periods of the Obama presidency to date (along with the launch of Healthcare.gov).
Obama still has more than two-plus years left in office. If the events and scandals that have unfolded in recent weeks continue to plague his administration, the Quinnipiac poll could prove correct. But more than likely, eight years from now, Americans will view someone else—either the next president or George W. Bush—as the worst modern-day president.
Danny Vinik is a staff writer at The New Republic.