In the past, party affiliation was beneficial for presidential candidates when it came to getting elected. Republicans and Democrats may likely have a team favorite: perhaps George H.W. Bush for the GOP or John F. Kennedy for the Democrats. Independents (or non-affiliated voters), on the other hand, are a fickle bunch.
Nevertheless, three post-WW II U.S. presidents have been able to transcend party lines and capture the approval of the independent voters of their time, according to data provided by Gallup.
Though Reagan’s approval rating with non-affiliated voters waxed and waned throughout his two terms, it remained above average for nearly his entire presidency after his first 3 years in office. His lowest points in favorability trended at the same rate across party lines, meaning polarization wasn't to blame when voters were dissatisfied wit his administration.
Reagan started his political career as a Democrat, and didn't become a Republican until 1962, famously saying, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left me." Throughout his time in office, Reagan was able to influence popular opinions, regardless of party affiliation.
Bill Clinton was and continues to be one of the most popular living presidents, despite several scandals during his time in office.His administration saw one of the longest abiding
eras of growth in trade. The North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by Clinton, reduced tariffs on both imports and exports to the United States in an agreement with Canada and Mexico.
While it is still debated today whether its provisions are more positive than negative, one thing is sure: NAFTA had a direct impact on the amount of trade occurring between the United States and its surrounding countries.
Analysts and commentators will also debate just how much of a direct impact Clinton had on the economic growth experienced in the 90s. However, it typically does not matter to American voters, who are usually influenced heavily by the current state of the economy when forming an opinion of the current president.
The president most notably revered by independents in the post-WW II era was Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose independent approval rate continues to tower over even his closest competitor, Bill Clinton.During Eisenhower's presidency (1953-1961), a majority of the public was united against communism, the cold war was in full swing, and the Korean War had resulted in stalemate.
These tensions fueled much of his support for space exploration, which was extremely popular due in large part to the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik's first Earth orbit in 1957. He was a decorated war hero, viewed as an extremely effective leader, and was well-liked for reasons other than his policies and achievements in office.
He signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956 which started one of the largest, most labor intensive public projects in U.S. history. As a result, Eisenhower was able to gain more support from the independents for his time than many other president's could find in their own parties, which is what makes him the reigning champion of independent approval during his time in office.
Though Eisenhower takes the cake when it comes to favorability amongst independents, both Clinton and Reagan were able to get re-elected and garner even more support from independents in their second terms, just as their predecessor had before them.
Reagan's second term ended with an overall 5 percent escalation from his first term, while Clinton concluded with an 11 percent increase. However, even with the large boost in support from independents, Clinton still trails Eisenhower by 10 percentage points.
However, the growing number of independent voters in the United States makes it difficult to say how much longer it will be before the title is usurped.