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On ‘getting things done,’ Bush has always had Obama beat

Americans think President Obama is a weaker leader than George W. Bush, according to a new poll.

And it's not because they forgot how much they disliked Bush. It's always been that way -- even if people didn't realize it.

From left to right, Presidents George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, William J. Clinton and Jimmy Carter  in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 7, 2009. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

A new poll covered over on Post Politics by Sean Sullivan shows Americans now say that Bush was a more competent president than Obama is, 48 percent to 42 percent. The bipartisan Fox News poll comes just a couple days after The Fix raised the idea that Americans don't think Obama is a good boss (and then raised it again).

Admittedly, we were a bit skeptical of the poll. After all, when a president has been out of office for a while, people tend to remember them more fondly (and that has certainly been the case with Bush). So when the once-uber-unpopular Bush polled higher than Obama on competency, we thought maybe -- just maybe -- that Americans were viewing the 43rd president through a rose-colored rearview mirror.

As it turns out, they have been pretty consistent. They have long viewed competency and "getting things done" as more of a Bush thing than an Obama thing.

To whit, below we look at Pew polling over the course of Obama's presidency. The red line is Obama's overall approval rating, while the blue line is the percentage of people who say he can "get things done" when he wants to.


Obama's competency has long polled slightly higher than his overall approval rating -- until last year. And other recent polls show people's views of Obama as a manager of government are right around his overall approval rating.

Not so for Bush. A look at Bush's presidency shows that Americans consistently rated his competency significantly higher than his overall job performance. I.e. they might not have liked what he was doing, but they still saw him as capable of getting what he wanted, when he wanted it.


What's perhaps most striking about these numbers is that Hurricane Katrina happened in August 2005. And even as Bush's approval rating plummeted into the 30s, significantly more people still thought he was capable of getting things done.

Maybe they thought he wasn't a good boss. But they at least thought he was a boss who could do things.

Obama, it seems, is no longer getting the same benefit of the doubt.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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