Regular readers of the USA Today's print and online versions know that the paper usually does an excellent job of displaying original and informative graphics, but one we saw yesterday was particularly interesting. The chart showed historical Presidential approval ratings strung together since Harry Truman's Presidency through the present. The chart provides an interesting look at how Presidents have been viewed by the public throughout history. If you go to the article, you can also compare approval ratings of each President and other interesting stuff.
When looking at the complete history of approval ratings, it was hard to believe that even though he left office as one of the most unpopular Presidents ever, at one point George W. Bush's approval rating was higher than any other President in the post-WWII era. Ironically, the prior record appears to be held by his father, whose popularity also hit its lowest levels near the end of his first and only term. Likewise, while Reagan has been viewed positively by both Republicans and Democrats, he and Nixon (and Obama so far) are the only post-WWII Presidents who never saw their approval ratings break above 70%.
Taking the USA Today's look at Presidential approval ratings one step further, we added a chart of the S&P 500's year over year (y/y) performance during each President's term to see how a President's popularity was tied to the stock market. Not surprisingly, there is a strong relationship between the stock market's performance (which reflects the economy) and how a President is viewed. Presidents who were in office while the stock market was strong typically have been more popular and vice versa.
In recent history, however, the relationship has been less consistent. For example, George W. Bush's popularity peaked when the market was weak, and as the stock market improved up until 2007, his popularity continued to decline. Likewise, while it's still early in his first term, President Obama came into office with an approval rating of 64%, but even though the markets have shown considerable improvement, his approval rating has seen a decline to 55%.