Trouble ahead? A look at two-term presidencies

Updated
Mark Wilson

If history is any indication, President Obama will have a hard time maintaining his popularity during his second term, which officially starts today. In fact, according to Gallup, just two out of seven post-World War II presidents (Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton) had higher approval ratings in their second term than their first. President George W. Bush had the biggest drop in average approval rating from one term to the next.

Here’s a look at what happened to these presidents in their second terms, what went right, and what may have sent those poll numbers plummeting. President Obama, take note!

 

Harry Truman:

Gallup first-term average approval rating: 56%

Gallup second-term average approval rating: 36%

What happened: Truman oversaw the end of World War II and was largely known for helping found the United Nations and issuing the Truman Doctrine to curb communism. He also oversaw the $12 billion Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. His second term, however, saw increasing conflict with the Soviet Union and military engagement in Korea. Allegations of corruption among Truman’s senior White House staff also became a major issue during his second term.

Dwight Eisenhower:

Gallup first-term average approval rating: 70%

Gallup second-term average approval rating: 60%

What happened: Unlike most second-term presidents, Ike didn’t see his standing drop too much. After all, 60% is still an enviably high approval rating. The five star general was praised for deposing the leader of Iran and helping end the Korean War, and establishing an American policy of defending Taiwan. In his second term, the Soviets launched Sputnik, leaving the president to play catchup. Close to the end of his second term, his goal of setting up a summit meeting with the Soviets collapsed after the notorious U-2 incident in which an American plane was shot down over Russia.

Lyndon Johnson:

Gallup first-term average approval rating: 74%

Gallup second-term average approval rating: 50%

What happened: Lyndon Johnson, of course, catapulted into the presidency following JFK’s assassination. Once there, he garnered a lot of support for his “Great Society” legislation, which included laws upholding civil rights, education, environmental protection, Medicare, and Medicaid. But his second term was also marked by escalating U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Anti-war protests rocked the country and crime rates increased. Johnson was eligible to run for another term but decided against it. At the time, he became incredibly unpopular among the Democratic Party and faced a tough challenge from Senator Robert Kennedy.

 Richard Nixon

Gallup first-term average approval rating: 56%

Gallup second-term average approval rating: 34%

What happened: One word: Watergate. The scandal, which resulted in the president’s resignation, began with a 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters. The Nixon administration attempted to cover up the event. But mounting evidence, including Nixon’s tape recording system in his office, revealed the White House knew what was going on. The Watergate debacle resulted in the incarceration of a mind-blowing 43 people. His popularity plummeted. Too bad, because Nixon had a great first term, which included ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, opening up diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China, and establishing the Environmental Protection Agency.

 Ronald Reagan:

Gallup first-term average approval rating: 50%

Gallup second-term average approval rating: 55%

What happened: Reagan was re-elected by a landslide, thanks to his popular policies on supply-side economics and stance on reducing government spending (although in fact the deficit ballooned) and deregulating the economy. His second term was largely marked by ending the Cold War. It was not all smooth sailing, however. The Iran-Contra affair (and subsequent Congressional investigation) over the use of proceeds from secret arms sales to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, hurt him.

Bill Clinton:

Gallup first-term average approval rating: 50%

Gallup second-term average approval rating: 61%

What happened: Bill Clinton’s popularity in his second term is somewhat surprising. It could have gone south following the sex scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was eventually impeached for perjury because of it—but was eventually acquitted by the U.S. Senate and able to serve the remainder of his term. So how’d he hold on, and even surpass the popularity rating he accrued during his first term? A booming economy and an increasingly unpopular House GOP. His achievement in passing welfare reform, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and a budget surplus also certainly helped.

George W. Bush:

Gallup first-term average approval rating: 62%

Gallup second-term average approval rating: 37%

What happened: The Republican had a ton of support during his first term. His approval ratings skyrocketed over his handling of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. But after he beat Democrat John Kerry in 2004, things started to turn sour. He was ripped for his handling of the Iraq War (oops, no weapons of mass destructions there), his delayed reaction to Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis.

Barack Obama:

Gallup first –term average approval rating: 49%

Gallup second-term average approval rating: To be determined!

Trouble ahead? A look at two-term presidencies

Updated