Bush Legacy: A Tale of Two Terms

PARTY – Bush's second-terms ratings have not only been weaker but also more partisan than any of his three immediate predecessors'. Bush maintained 75 percent approval from Republicans in his second term, vs. just 11 percent among Democrats – a 64-point gap, larger than any previous first- or second-term comparison in ABC News/Washington Post polls since the start of Reagan's presidency.

Among independents, moreover, Bush has averaged just 32 percent second-term approval, 30 points below his first-term average in this swing group. (In his second term he's also run 30 points below his first-term average among Democrats, and 16 points lower among Republicans.) Bush's low among independents, 18 percent this past October, compares with lows of 40 percent approval among independents for Clinton, 35 percent for George H.W. Bush and 45 percent for Reagan.

Even in his own party, Bush's low of 55 percent in October was anywhere from 7 to 11 points lower than any of his three predecessors' lowest ratings in their own party.

Click here for charts on Bush job approval.

LEGACY – Beyond his own reputation, the main issue remaining is what damage Bush's second term may do to his party's longer-term prospects. Following the path blazed by Reagan, the Republican Party gradually gained adherents from 1980 through 2003, when, for the first time, it achieved hard-fought parity with the Democrats: On average that year 31 percent of Americans associated themselves with each party.

But the Iraq war and Bush's closely related ratings have flipped that trend, threatening to reverse the generation-long Reagan revolution. Since 2003 Republican allegiance has retreated and the Democratic Party has gained ground, a phenomenon central to the election of Bush's successor, Barack Obama, two months ago. The question ahead – one that may best define Bush's ultimate legacy – is whether and to what extent the GOP's losses outlive the president on whose watch they occurred.

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