With the dedication ceremony of his presidential library in Dallas less than two days away, George W. Bush just got another reason to feel pleased: He's slightly less unpopular than he used to be. For that, he can thank Democrats.
Since World War II, only one president has left office with lower approval ratings than Bush. (That president, Richard Nixon, left via helicopter rather abruptly.) So in the Washington Post's presentation of a new poll showing the former president with 47 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval, this paragraph counts as a compliment.
In the new Post-ABC poll, 34 percent say they “strongly” disapprove of the job he did while in office; that’s the lowest strong disapprove number for Bush since January 2005.
Bush's approval still represents a strongly partisan split. (To get its overall approve/disapprove figure, the Post combines both responses, "strong" and "somewhat.") Fifty-two percent of Republicans strongly approve of Bush's performance. Fifty-six percent of Democrats strongly disapprove.
That split has been present basically since October 2001. Gallup tracked Bush's approval regularly over his two terms. The last time Bush had a majority of approval of Democrats was in April 2003.
While comparing two polls is a bit of apples-to-oranges, the Post poll suggests that its among Democrats that Bush has gained the most ground — perhaps in part because he had the most ground to gain.
On the key issues of Iraq and the economy, there's still a massive partisan split. Seventy-six percent of Republicans approve of how Bush handled the economy, 76 percent of Democrats don't. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans approve of the decision to go to war in Iraq, 74 percent of Democrats don't.
If you're one of those who disagrees with those decisions, visit the presidential library when it opens next week — President Obama and other dignitaries will be there on Thursday. One exhibit presents you with the advice Bush was receiving from advisors and lets you decide how you would have acted. It is probably safe to predict that those responses will also break down along party lines.
By the way, the last time Bush had approval ratings as high as those recorded in the Post poll was July 2005, a bit before the situation in Iraq deteriorated even further. For nearly his entire second term, the president saw his popularity decline.
In some ways, Bush's position is one other presidents might envy. By leaving office at such low approval ratings, he has nowhere to go but up. His legacy could only grow.