Compared to most other presidents, JFK enjoyed very high public approval ratings for the duration of his abbreviated presidency. He averaged 70.1 percent approval, the highest of any post-World War II president. By comparison, the average for all presidents between 1938 and 2012 is 54 percent.
That high average, though, is deceptive. The trends were heading steadily downward. By September 1963, JFK’s approval rating was at the lowest point of his presidency, while his disapproval rating was at its highest.
Counterintuitively, the highest point of Kennedy’s approval ratings came in the wake of the his most serious foreign policy stumble: the Bay of Pigs. Despite the embarrassing admissions the White House was forced to make about American involvement in the botched invasion, Kennedy received a bounce in the wake of that episode.
Aside from that spike, though, Kennedy’s approval rating was falling. He had assumed the presidency a mostly unknown quantity, which was reflected in the relatively high “no opinion” rate at the start of his term. Over the course of the year, many of those undecideds formed an opinion, and many of those formed a negative opinion.
After a solid start to his second year in office, Kennedy’s approval rating slid steadily through the summer and early fall, with a commensurate increase in his disapproval rating. The Cuban Missile Crisis of mid- to late-October led to a large bump on the eve of the midterm elections.
Kennedy started the year still enjoying the post-Cuban Missile Crisis bounce, but the numbers had started to slip. By September, his approval rating had slid to the mid-50s, the lowest of his presidency. A small rebound of 2 points in the following months did not establish a strong pattern. Significantly, the disapproval rating climbed steadily throughout the year.
- JFK’s average approval was highest compared with the full terms of other post-World War II presidents. When looking only at first terms, Lyndon Johnson’s shortened term, after he inherited the presidency after Kennedy’s assassination, is higher. “Presidential Approval Ratings — Gallup Historical Statistics and Trends,” Gallup.com;
“Presidential Approval Ratings–Barack Obama,” Gallup.com. ^