Tags: President | Gerald Ford | Poll | Popularity | Nixon

President Gerald Ford's Pardon of Nixon Impacts Popularity Decades Later, Polls Show

By    |   Thursday, 14 Aug 2014 05:16 PM

After the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon's resignation, the American public welcomed Gerald Ford to the presidency with open arms — and a 71 percent approval rating just a week after he took office.

But that would be the highest approval rating he would ever achieve, and the main reason for his unpopularity among voters, many historians agree, was his pardoning of Nixon.

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"Approval of Ford's presidency was short-lived. Although personally well-liked by Americans, his job approval ratings fell when he pardoned Nixon shortly after he took office and never really recovered," CBS News observed in a report following his death in 2006 at age 93. "Most Americans felt his pardon of Nixon was a mistake."

Ford assumed the presidency thanks to two men who resigned — Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Ford had been a congressman from Michigan for 25 years and had served as minority leader for eight years when Agnew resigned in October 1973. Agnew pleaded no contest to charges of tax evasion and money laundering, part of a scheme to accept bribes while governor of Maryland.

Ford was nominated to take his place, and the senate confirmed him as vice president on Nov. 27 by a vote of 92 to 3. The House confirmed him not long afterwards.

When Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, over his role in the Watergate cover-up, Ford became the first person to assume the presidency without having been previously voted into either the presidential or vice presidential office.

President Ford pardoned Nixon on Sept. 8, 1974. A Time magazine poll conducted shortly after the pardon found that 58 percent of respondents thought Ford did the wrong thing in pardoning Nixon, and 71 percent believed that Ford had not told the country the entire truth about the matter.

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But Ford faced other problems as well. North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam nine months into his presidency, and he presided over the worst economy in decades, with growing inflation and recession.

By October 1976, shortly before the election, just 46 percent of voters approved of his handling of the economy and foreign policy.

In the election, Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated Ford with 50.1 percent of the popular vote. Carter won 297 electoral votes to Ford's 240, although Ford carried 27 states and Carter carried 23.

In a poll of presidential scholars in 1982, Ford ranked No. 24 out of 36 presidents, and his ratings have improved only slightly since then. A 1994 Siena College poll placed him as low as No. 32 out of 41, although a 2009 C-SPAN survey had him at No. 22 out of 42. His average ranking in 15 polls of historians is No. 26.

But Ford's pardon of Nixon is now seen by many as a wise decision that helped the country move beyond Watergate.

"Perhaps President Ford's greatest achievement was in demonstrating to a nation angry and dispirited over Watergate and Vietnam that its political system was resilient and the office of the presidency still worthy of respect," The Los Angeles Times noted the day after his death.

"In that sense his presidency was a triumph of Ford's personal character — not the first or last time American has been fortunate in the leaders our democracy has produced."

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After the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon's resignation, the American public welcomed Gerald Ford to the presidency with open arms - and a 71 percent approval rating just a week after he took office. But that would be the highest approval rating he would ever...
President, Gerald Ford, Poll, Popularity, Nixon
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2014-16-14
Thursday, 14 Aug 2014 05:16 PM
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