WASHINGTON -- There was a time, though admittedly it's hard to remember now, when George W. Bush was remarkably popular. So popular, in fact, that he easily won reelection four years ago, racking up what was the largest popular vote total for any presidential candidate until Barack Obama shattered it this year.
So it's a particularly amusing sign of how far the political climate has shifted that in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 33 percent of respondents admit to having voted for the guy twice, while 52 percent said they'd never voted for him at all. If that were actually true, of course, Bush would never have had the chance to run the country so firmly into the ground that people are now pretending they never liked him.
Just 18 percent of people surveyed said they were going to miss Bush; 79 percent said they wouldn't miss him. And Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who worked on the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff (who polled for John McCain during the campaign), told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that even a majority of GOP voters won't miss their one-time champion when he leaves office.
"He's much more likely to be seen as a Herbert Hoover that Democrats will continue to run against again and again," Hart said.
The poll also showed Obama has gotten even more popular with the public since he won the election. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said Obama has a background or set of values they can identify with, which Hart -- who had tracked answers to that particular question closely all year -- said was a very good sign for the next president; he struggled to keep that number above 50 percent until after the Democratic convention. Nearly half of the people polled said they expected to "strongly relate" to Obama as their president, and 55 percent said they were either strongly confident or quite confident that Obama has the right set of personal characteristics to be president. Most people approve of the appointments Obama has made, and think he's done a good job balancing between being proactive and getting in Bush's way.
People clearly recognize that the country is in bad shape -- 90 percent said the economy was worse now than it was a year ago (2 percent apparently felt it had improved, which is hard to imagine), and 28 percent expect the economy to get worse in the next year. But for Obama, that may translate into more benefit of the doubt, Hart said -- 77 percent of the poll's respondents said Obama has bigger challenges than most recent presidents. "His presidency has a longer time to be able to prove itself," Hart said.