How do you measure hate? It’s difficult, if not impossible. These days, we use polls and surveys as a primary metric to gauge popularity and likability among politicians. But they’re far from perfect. Hate, or extreme dislike, is often felt at the gut level. Sometimes, you can’t even explain where it comes from. You just know there are some people who irk you. They turn your stomach. They make you want to set yourself on fire.
Politicians are often among the most hated figures in society. Sometimes, it’s justified. These people are, after all, making decisions that affect us all. And a lot of times, they have to make the unpopular choice. When trying to devise a list of the most hated or unpopular politicians, it can be hard to get a real sense of who’s hated and who’s not. Are they hated because they’re actually horrible people or because they had to make an unpopular choice?
We’ve taken it all into account and compiled a list of some of the most hated politicians in American history. We’re keeping our list to American politicians, both from the past and present. Otherwise, we’d end up with a list of dictators, including Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, etc. — you know, the usual suspects. We also looked at disapproval and favorability ratings as one element, but those only stretch back so far. There’s no real definitive way to say who’s hated more than anyone else, so remember this is largely subjective.
First up is the Senate’s most hated man.
1. Ted Cruz
Sen. Al Franken has said he tends to like Ted Cruz more than the rest of his colleagues. But he follows that up with this: “And I hate Ted Cruz.” He calls him “the guy who microwaves fish in the office” to drive home the point. Indeed, Cruz is one of the most hated senators in recent memory. He just seems to have perfected the art of rubbing people the wrong way. A glance at his favorability ratings during his 2016 presidential run will tell you all you need to know.
But America’s dislike for politicians isn’t isolated to sitting senators. It stretches way, way back.
2. James Buchanan
A far cry from the modern terror of Cruz’s Dr. Seuss read-a-longs, James Buchanan’s greatest sin, perhaps, was his unwillingness to step in and avoid the Civil War. It’s hard to say whether he could have done anything, really, but under his watch, the seeds of the Confederacy were sewn. We don’t have poll data from the late 1850s unfortunately. But to this day, Buchanan is considered one of America’s worst presidents.
Next we have the woman who is, perhaps, the most unpopular politician in the modern era.
3. Hillary Clinton
Had Hillary Clinton been elected president in 2016, she would have immediately become the least popular person ever elected. People really don’t like her, and that’s one of the reasons (if not the main reason) that she lost to the only person who was, by many counts, more unlikeable than she was. Clinton served as first lady, as a senator, and later as secretary of state, but as we all know she fell short of the presidency.
And yes, we can’t get away with omitting you-know-who from this list.
4. Donald Trump
Ah, yes. Donald Trump. After only being in office for a short time the president is already the most widely disliked person to hold the position. Since taking office, he’s actually become even more hated. There is the possibility he and his administration could do some great things and turn it all around, but with scandals piling up it’s hard to see that happening.
One of Trump’s chief rivals in the House also makes our list.
5. Nancy Pelosi
One of the Republicans’ favorite boogeymen, Nancy Pelosi has become one of the most divisive figures in politics. It’s not that she’s really hated overall. It’s more that she’s just incredibly unpopular with certain groups. But it’s gotten to the point where even her own party members are turning against her. And the GOP really just needs to mention her name to get its base riled up.
Pelosi’s unpopularity pales in comparison, however, to a recent president.
6. George W. Bush
Thinking back to Bush Jr.’s tenure, everything seems so pedestrian — especially compared to where we are today. Bush’s approval ratings and popularity rose after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But after that? It was all downhill. The war in Iraq and financial crisis were a big part of that. And eventually, he sort of just faded away. These days, he spends his time painting, as he’s become something of a Republican outcast. Interestingly enough, Trump’s toxic brand is actually helping Bush’s legacy.
Next up is one of America’s most hated governors. You know, he’s the one who likes to visit the beach.
7. Chris Christie
While his presidential ambitions never played out, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has seen his favorability numbers plummet. We all remember the infamous “Bridgegate” scandal, which is still being unwound, as one of the reasons why. But then Christie had the gall to visit the beach — a state beach — while it was closed off to every person in New Jersey. All told, Christie has become the least popular governor in America.
We’ll turn back the clock again, now, and check in on another of America’s worst presidents.
8. Warren G. Harding
You might not have been all that familiar with Warren G. Harding — at least not until John Oliver featured him in a Last Week Tonight segment. As funny as it was, it hit on some very real points. Harding was, by many counts, an awful president. During his time in the White House, Harding liked to play a lot of golf and poker with the boys and, of course, spend time with his mistress. He was also pretty corrupt, letting his friends dip their hands into the Treasury easily and often.
Harding might be a divisive historical figure, but few have managed to divide people in modern times like a recent vice president.
9. Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney gets a lot of hate for his role in the George W. Bush administration. Cheney was one of the lead figures in the run up to the war in Iraq, and many people questioned his past as CEO of Halliburton — a company which profited enormously from that war. Then, on top of all of that, there was the instance in which Cheney accidentally shot someone in the face.
Still, these days, people would probably prefer Cheney to another hated congressional figure who just won’t seem to go away.
10. Newt Gingrich
These days, he spends his time defending the Trump administration. But previously, Newt Gingrich was one of America’s least popular congressional names — and for good reason. As speaker of the House, Gingrich was a leading figure in the impeachment of Bill Clinton and was sort of a proto-Mitch McConnell in using some dirty legislative tricks during the ’90s.
Next up is a president with a very rare distinction.
11. Richard Nixon
Many readers are too young to remember Nixon. But we all know about Watergate — a scandal that seems impossibly quaint in modern times. But Nixon was a capable, competent man who just so happened to be incredibly corrupt and devious, as well. The Watergate scandal eventually forced his resignation from office, and he was one of a handful of presidents to face calls for impeachment.
Going back a little further, we find a president who was considered to be the least popular in modern times — until this millennium, that is.
12. Harry Truman
Following up FDR is not an easy feat, and Truman wasn’t really able to pull it off. It might not have been entirely his fault though. Truman assumed the presidency in the transition period at the end of World War II, a time during which unemployment went up (goodbye, war economy), and the Red Scare developed. Add in the war in Korea, and Truman had a lot on his plate. At the end of his days in the White House, Truman’s approvals were an abysmal 22%.
Another unpopular president managed to win only 49 electoral votes when he ran for re-election.
13. Jimmy Carter
We don’t really think of Jimmy Carter as particularly hated these days. But he was incredibly unpopular as president and eventually lost handily to Ronald Reagan during the 1980 election. Carter, like Truman, had a lot on his plate. There was an energy crisis and geopolitical crises happening in Iran and the Middle East, and he basically looked really weak in comparison to other politicians — namely Reagan. So it’s not that he’s really hated, per se, but many feel he wasn’t a great president.
We’ll go back even further, now, to another of America’s most hated presidential figures.
14. Andrew Johnson
When America was still quite young, it suffered the Johnson administration. Andrew Johnson served from 1865 to 1869, hot on the heels of Abraham Lincoln. He assumed office after Lincoln’s assassination. Being so long ago, it’s hard to get a real hold on what makes Johnson so unpopular, but many scholars agree he’s among the worst presidents in our history. It might be, at least in part, because he was a white supremacist.
For our dismount, we return to the modern era for one of the most disliked political personalities of the past decade.
15. Sarah Palin
We just had to include Sarah Palin. She probably cost John McCain his shot at the presidency in 2008 and even managed to throw up her hands and quit as governor of Alaska. Since then, she’s done little except annoy liberals with large sodas and heavy use of phrases, such as “hockey mom.” According to FiveThirtyEight, Palin’s favorability rating among all Americans has dropped more than 40 points since she became a national figure.
Does Palin deserve a place on our list of America’s most hated politicians? You betcha.