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Jimmy Carter's Woeful Poll Numbers Have Been Helped by Efforts Post-Presidency

Image: Jimmy Carter's Woeful Poll Numbers Have Been Helped by Efforts Post-Presidency
Former US president Jimmy Carter. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014 12:21 PM

Jimmy Carter left office in 1981 with an approval rating of just 34 percent and was generally considered to be one of the weakest presidents in American history.

But Carter's image has been rehabilitated in the minds of many Americans due largely to his extensive humanitarian efforts since leaving the White House.

As one political observer said, "Carter is widely considered a better man than he was a president."

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In a Siena College poll of historians the year after Carter left office, he was ranked 33rd out of 39 presidents.

In 15 polls of historians since 1982, he has never ranked higher than 18th in 2011, and ranked as low as 34 out of 40 presidents in 2005. His average is 27.

James Earl Carter Jr. was a peanut farmer who had served as a U.S. Navy officer, a state senator, and governor of Georgia when he announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976.

At the time he had a name recognition of just 2 percent and was considered a longshot candidate. But he won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary to garner the nomination.

In the general election Carter narrowly defeated incumbent Gerald Ford with 50.1 percent of the popular vote, running as a Washington outsider who promised truth in government in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

When Carter took office in 1977, the United States was in the midst of an energy crisis, with long lines and high prices at the gas pumps, as well as "stagflation" — high inflation, high unemployment, and low growth.

"He didn't know how to handle a crisis, even though some of the events [during his administration] were out of his control," said Scott Kaufman, a historian and research scholar with the Francis Marion University Board of Trustees who has written a book about Carter. "He was too insulated and refused to compromise with Congress.

"He was not a great president and he wasn't the worst. Probably more than anything else, he was mediocre."

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Carter did chalk up several successes during his one term in office. He pursued the Panama Canal treaties, the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, and brokered the Camp David Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.

But his tenure was also marked by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which prompted Carter to take the unpopular step of boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Worse still was the Iran hostage crisis, when 52 American diplomats and citizens were held for 444 days by Iranian students who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Carter ordered a military attempt to rescue the hostages that ended with the deaths of eight U.S. servicemen and the destruction of two aircraft.

In his 1980 re-election effort, Carter lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan, winning just six states and becoming the first elected president since Herbert Hoover to lose a re-election bid.

Since leaving office, Carter has been involved in a number of public policy, conflict resolution, human rights, and charitable causes. In 1982, he established the Carter Center in Atlanta to advance human rights. He has traveled extensively to conduct peace negotiations, observe elections, and advance disease prevention in developing nations. He has also been a major figure in the Habitat for Humanity project to build affordable housing.

In 2002, Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work "to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."

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Jimmy Carter left office in 1981 with an approval rating of just 34 percent and was generally considered to be one of the weakest presidents in American history. But Carter's image has been rehabilitated due largely to his extensive humanitarian efforts since leaving the White House.
president, jimmy carter, polls, popularity
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2014-21-13
Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014 12:21 PM
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