FACT CHECK: Did Bush’s Popularity Double After Trump Was Elected?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

The social media outlet NowThis News posted a video Sunday claiming that former President George W. Bush has become far more popular since President Donald Trump was elected.

“Bush’s popularity rating doubled after Trump was elected,” read the captioned video.

Verdict: False

Bush’s popularity rating has nearly doubled, but most of the improvement occurred years before Trump was elected president.

Fact Check:

Comedian Will Ferrell, who famously impersonated Bush in the 2000s, appeared on Saturday Night Live (SNL) over the weekend to once again play the former president.

Ferrell had a message for viewers – Bush was a bad president.

“So I just wanted to address my fellow Americans tonight and remind you guys that I was really bad,” he said from a mock Oval Office. “Like, historically not good.”

Ferrell reminded viewers of the Iraq war, the 2008 stock market crash and former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was often portrayed as sinister by Democrats. “You think Mike Pence is heartless, Cheney was literally heartless,” Ferrell said during the skit, referring to Cheney’s pacemaker.

The segment came days after CNN released a new poll showing that the former president’s popularity rating had reached a post-presidency high.

Ferrell attributed the popularity bump to Trump. “Donnie Q. Trump came in and suddenly I’m looking pretty sweet by comparison,” said Ferrell. “I’m suddenly popular A.F.”

NowThis clipped parts of the SNL skit and ran with the claim, saying in its video that Bush’s approval rating doubled after Trump became president.

Bush’s popularity rating has nearly doubled – it has risen from 35 percent to 61 percent according to polling by CNN.

But the increase has occurred gradually over the last nine years.

After an inquiry by The Daily Caller News Foundation, NowThis took down the video and posted a new version. “Bush’s popularity rating nearly doubled since he left office,” reads an updated caption.

Bush ended his presidency with low approval ratings amid the turmoil of the Great Recession and unpopular wars in the Middle East.

But within a year his favorability rating had improved from 35 percent to 43 percent. By May 2015 – a month before Trump announced his candidacy for president – Bush’s popularity stood at 52 percent.

The prevailing explanation for his resurgence in popularity is simple – Bush has largely stayed out of the limelight.

“How do we know that’s likely the cause? Well, presidents historically have almost always seen their image improve after leaving office,” read a piece from The Washington Post in July 2016. “Not being in the news or engaged in the heated political debates of the day makes people more nostalgic for you. They remember the good times and forget – or at least forgive you for – some of the bad.”

Bush appeared back in the public eye in February 2017 to promote his book. He was reluctant to criticize Trump during interviews, but has since become more outspoken.

“We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty,” Bush said in October at a policy summit. “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”

The media has drawn a stark contrast between how Bush and Trump each responded to the violence in Charlottesville, talk about Islamic terrorism and interact with the press.

As Bush’s popularity has risen to 61 percent, NowThis and others appear to believe that nostalgia for Bush has become amplified in the era of Trump.

“The American electorate has a short-term memory,” a NowThis commentator said a different video. “And I get it – in comparison, he may not seem that bad. I’ve even heard some liberals say today they’d give anything to have Bush back.”

The observation isn’t baseless.

Gallup reported in June that Bush’s favorability rating improved from 52 percent to 59 percent over the prior year. But it’s unclear how much of that bump, if any, can be attributed to Trump, and most of the doubling claimed by NowThis – roughly two-thirds – came before Trump assumed office.

His improved popularity has come largely from Democrats and independents. “His favorability mark among Democrats has soared from only 11% in February 2009 to a majority 54% now,” reports CNN.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor

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