President Obama signs two presidential memorandums associated with his actions on immigration in his office on Air Force One as he arrives at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, before traveling to Del Sol High School to speaks about the steps he will be taking on immigration. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama delivers his penultimate State of the Union address on Tuesday -- a speech that is expected to set the course for his work with the newly GOP-controlled Congress over his final two years in office.

And unavoidably, talk will turn to Obama's legacy and where he stands. (Already, New York Magazine has run a feature asking 53 historians what Obama must do to cement his legacy.)

While Obama has certainly been battered over his six years, he can at least say this: He's in considerably better shape than his predecessor, George W. Bush, heading into the home stretch.

While Obama's and Bush's numbers rivaled each other for the better part of the middle of their presidencies -- complete with hard-fought reelection races -- Obama in recent months has differentiated himself from the tail end of the Bush years, keeping his approval rating steadily above 40 percent.

Here's how the two men fared from the end of their third years on, courtesy of Gallup's presidential job approval center:


And in fact, at this point, Obama's approval rating is about where another recent Republican president was at this point -- a man by the name of Ronald Reagan. Of course, at that point, Reagan was in the midst of the Iran-Contra affair.

The below chart from Pew adds Reagan and Bill Clinton to the mix, showing each president's second term.


(One likely reason for Obama hasn't dropped further in recent years: A very devoted base of support among African Americans and liberals.)

But that's not the only measure on which Obama's legacy -- such as we can even tell at this point -- appears to be in better shape than Bush. Pew asked a number of other questions.

While, at this point in Bush's presidency, Americans said 45-24 that Bush was likely to be an unsuccessful president in the long run, they are more evenly split on Obama, with 32 percent saying he'll be successful and 38 percent saying he'll be unsuccessful.


Pew also asked people whether they expected each president to have more accomplishments than failures. While for Bush it was 64-24 in favor of failures, for Obama it's 50-44 tilted toward failures. That's the biggest difference between the two.

In addition -- and this is what is interesting to us -- while Obama is unpopular overall, Americans still think he has the attributes of a good president. Majorities say he stands up for his beliefs, is a good communicator, cares about regular people and is trustworthy.

Obama, though, does get slightly less than a majority on being a "strong leader" and getting things done.


All of this comes with the usual caveats. This is one snapshot in time, and it comes as low gas prices and clear signs of economic progress appear to be doing Obama's poll numbers a little bit of good. If those don't continue, his poll numbers will probably drop.

And any one poll can catch an individual president in the midst of an ebb or a flow -- as the Pew poll did of Reagan in 1987.

But if Reagan's example can teach us anything, it's that nothing is set in stone before the seventh year of a presidency.