In The Trump Era, Democrats Look More Kindly On Past GOP Presidents

History is often kind to former presidents, but Trump may be helping things along.

President Donald Trump is viewed far more harshly by the public than his five most recent predecessors, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov survey.

Americans say by an 11-percentage-point margin that they disapprove of Trump’s job performance. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, by contrast, all score retroactively positive ratings, with the top honors going to George H.W. Bush, who passed away shortly before the survey was conducted.

The results are largely to be expected: Americans have a tendency to warm toward former presidents, and many may be especially unwilling to speak ill of the recently departed. All that would probably be true, to some extent, regardless of who was currently inhabiting the Oval Office.

Still, the survey also highlights the intensity of Democrats’ antipathy toward Trump ― and the degree to which it’s left a significant share of the party willing to speak more warmly of his Republican forerunners, even if it means sanding off the rough edges of their legacies.

Just 9 percent of Democrats polled say they approve of Trump’s job performance. But half now say they approve of George H.W. Bush’s time in the White House, with 40 percent saying the same of George W. Bush’s record and nearly a third giving good marks to Reagan. 

The difference is even clearer when looking at the intensity of their feelings for each president. About three-quarters of Democrats say they strongly disapprove of Trump’s job performance. By contrast, just 22 percent can summon up a similar level of retrospective distaste for George W. Bush or Reagan, and just 10 percent for George H.W. Bush.

This wasn’t always the case. The elder Bush, at times highly popular, saw his support while in office sink as low as 29 percent among all Americans, and he was defeated for re-election. His son ended his tenure as a broadly unpopular president with close to no Democratic backing. In a 2007 Economist/YouGov poll, 79 percent of Democrats strongly disapproved of George W. Bush. By 2013, that number had tapered, but was still a robust 61 percent.

Then Trump took office, and George W. Bush, who’d stayed largely on the sidelines throughout the Obama presidency, emerged to indirectly criticize the new president for “nativism” and “casual cruelty.” In 2017, two surveys found Democrats either positive toward or divided in their opinions of Bush as a person.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the  HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Dec. 4-6 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.