George W. Bush is proving that absence, indeed, makes the heart grow fonder.
According to a Gallup poll released Monday, the most recent ex-president has an approval rating of 47%, considerably higher than when he left office. In his first outing in the poll's ranking of former chief executives, Bush is still near the bottom, handily defeating perennial basement dweller Richard M. Nixon, forced to quit office in disgrace. But when compared with approval polls while he was in office, he's rising with a bullet.
Bush, whose memoirs were published recently, still is in negative territory. About 51% said they disapproved of him as president, again joining Nixon as the only two former leaders to be more disliked than liked.
The poll was conducted from Nov. 19 to 21 by telephone with 1,037 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Respondents were asked if they approved or disapproved of the nine former presidents during the last half century.
As in previous surveys, John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, continued to gather the highest grades, at 85%. Ranking second at 74% was Ronald Reagan, the Republican icon whose policies conservatives credit with ending the Cold War and setting a new economic agenda that has echoes in today's battles over tax and spending reductions.
Democrat Bill Clinton's popularity continues to grow as the former president becomes known for his good works around the world. Clinton, who was impeached but not convicted, grew 8 percentage points in the last four years to rank third at 69%.
But good works was no guarantee of success in this pool. Jimmy Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient famously known for his charitable work in housing and voting issues, dropped from third to sixth at 52%.
Lyndon B. Johnson and George H.W. Bush, like Clinton, each gained 8 percentage points, with Johnson moving up to 49% and Bush getting 64%. Bush ranked fourth. Gerald Ford, at 61%, ranked fifth.