I've read in a few news sources that whoever wins the current 2016 presidential election will already have generally low (below 45%) favorability among the general U.S. population, even among people that might have voted for the candidate.

Are there any historical examples of U.S. presidents that were very unpopular on the day that they took office?

  • 2
    45% seems rather high. Consider that the winner will likely take 47% of the vote, and Pew says that two thirds of registered voters are not satisfied with the available candidates. There's latitude for people to change their minds, and turnout is an effect, but I wouldn't be surprised at something much closer to 20%.
    – hobbs
    Nov 3, 2016 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest President, gets the honor for being the most unpopular, and got assassinated to boot.

Known almost exclusively by his got-up nickname "The Railsplitter," Lincoln had won the 1860 election in November with 39.8 percent of the popular vote. This absurdly low total was partly due to the fact that four candidates were on the ballot, but it remains the poorest showing by any winning presidential candidate in American history

At the time he was sworn in, Lincoln's "approval rating" can be estimated by examining wintertime Republican losses in local elections in Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Cleveland and St. Louis, and state elections in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island; by the observations of Henry Adams (of the presidential Adamses) that "not a third of the House" supported him; and by the published reckoning of the New York Herald that only 1 million of the 4.7 million who voted in November were still with him. All these indications put his support in the nation at about 25 percent — roughly equivalent to the lowest approval ratings recorded by modern-day polling.

The linked article goes to great lengths to demonstrate the vitriol the first Republican president faced in office. It's worth a read in its entirety. It's also worth noting that seven states seceded from the Union after his election but before his swearing in.

For modern era Presidents you can go here. Truman heads the list. http://us-presidents.insidegov.com/stories/5342/least-most-popular-presidents#24-Eisenhower-Overview

  • 9
    As the quote says, Lincoln's low popular vote percentage was not due to him being unpopular but due to having more than one noteworthy opponent. This doesn't necessarily reflect the favorability rating which is usually collected through opinion polls where the subjects rate different people independently from one another either as "favorable" or "unfavorable". I don't think such polls were already common during Lincoln's time.
    – Philipp
    Nov 2, 2016 at 13:48
  • 11
    @Philipp I encourage you to read the entire article. It was a little much to condense to one stand alone quote. The fact was he was very unpopular. See amended quote
    – user9790
    Nov 2, 2016 at 13:51
  • 6
    On Stackexchange we want answers to stand on their own feet. Links to 3rd party sources are meant to provide further information and back up claims, but reading them should not be necessary for the answer to be of use. However, the expanded quote does make your answer helpful.
    – Philipp
    Nov 2, 2016 at 13:59
  • 8
    So.. this is scary, right? "The last time we elected a president this hated, we had a literal civil war."
    – Tin Wizard
    Nov 2, 2016 at 20:06
  • 5
    Valid answer in that he certainly was unpopular. It's not very valid to estimate "approval rating" via votes, though, in that it's not comparable to modern 'approval rating' polling. Remember that a huge portion of the population couldn't even vote back then.
    – user1530
    Jan 20, 2017 at 18:21

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