Where Harry Met George: At the Extremes

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Despite what your parents may have said about life not being a popularity contest, a host of stale reality TV shows — and a few well-suppressed high school memories — will always clamor otherwise.

If it's any consolation, however, even commanders-in-chief are subjected to that most unfair of games — with daily national updates to prove it.

So who was the most popular president?

If you go by highest percentage population approval ever rated, that would put Harry S Truman and George W. Bush at the top. It would seem that despite extensive polling, the answer isn't quite as simple as one would think.

Indeed, according to an interactive presidential job approval chart that runs from 1941 to the present, when it comes to presidents, popularity is just as mutable as you remember it being in the 10th grade. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the presidents with the highest approval ratings at one point in their presidencies — think Truman and Bush at 91 and 89 percent respectively -- also have the lowest — Truman brings up the rear at 22 percent, with Bush at 28 percent.

In general, significant increases in popularity are hard to find, while sloping — or diving — decreases are far more prevalent. While certain nation-gripping events — like escalation in Vietnam or 9/11 — may spur sudden popularity surges as the populace gathers behind the commander in chief, the expectations born of overwhelming support are easily disappointed, and popularity plunges are quick to follow.

Still, there are several who managed to pull it off. From 1941-43, FDR kept himself generally in the 70s (no poll was taken in the month after Pearl Harbor, but FDR's approval was up 13 percentage points from the last pre-attack survey when a poll was taken), while Eisenhower had only a few forays below 60 and Reagan and Clinton hovered above — and occasionally below — 50 percent.

And for all the rest, it's never too late to hope: with enormous Northern casualties and draft riots raging throughout New York City, even the saintly Abraham Lincoln would have known the exact temperature of the heat of public discontent had popularity polls existed in 1863.

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