For the better part of a century, every U.S. president has been judged on the effectiveness of his first 100 days—the stretch of just over three months after his inauguration that arguably sets the tone for the rest of his time in office. As Donald Trump marks his 100th day as the nation’s 45th president, explore the origins of the 100-day benchmark and some significant events that have occurred at the outset of past presidential administrations, and get a by-the-numbers look at key stats from presidencies past and present.
Why 100 Days?
The 100-days concept is believed to have its roots in France, where the concept of “Cent Jours” (Hundred Days) refers to the period of 1815 between Napoleon Bonaparte’s return to Paris from exile on the island of Elba and his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, after which King Louis XVIII regained the French throne.
When did the first 100 days become a key benchmark for a U.S. presidential administration?
In the United States, no one talked that much about the importance of a president’s first 100 days—until Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933. He took swift action to calm the nation’s crippling financial panic (cue the Emergency Banking Act and the “fireside chats” that became Roosevelt’s signature) and began rolling out the programs that made up his New Deal, including 15 major pieces of legislation in the first 100 days. FDR’s extraordinary productivity translated into enormous popularity, and he set a first 100-day standard against which all future U.S. presidents would (perhaps unfairly) be measured.
What are some of the most notable things that have occurred in past presidents’ first 100 days?
John F. Kennedy ordered the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion 87 days into his presidency. At a time when the U.S. and USSR were locked in the Cold War, JFK’s first 100 days also saw the Soviets launch the first human into space.
September 1974, barely a month into his presidency, Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon a full pardon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal that led to his resignation. Widespread condemnation of Ford’s decision to pardon his predecessor is thought to have contributed to his failure to win the 1976 election.
On Day 1, Ronald Reagan started off with a bang, announcing the release of U.S. diplomats being held hostage in Iran. Sixty-nine days into his administration, he survived an assassination attempt.
Barack Obama—who like FDR took office during a severe financial crisis—was able to get Congress to sign a $787 million stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, on his 29th day in office.
THE FIRST 100 DAYS BY THE NUMBERS
Most: Franklin D. Roosevelt – 76
Fewest: George W. Bush – 7
After FDR, Harry S. Truman comes in a respectable second place in this category, with 55 laws passed in the first 100 days after his 1949 inauguration. (Though Truman took office after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, tallies of his first 100 days’ accomplishment usually start after he won election in his own right in 1948). Since then, presidents have gotten significantly less productive in the law-making department in their first 100 days. When he marks his 100th day in office this weekend, Donald Trump will be firmly in third place, with 28 laws passed since his inauguration.
Foreign countries visited
Most: Barack Obama – 9
Fewest: Dwight D. Eisenhower*, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump (tie) – 0
Obama is the clear winner in this category, visiting Canada, UK, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Turkey, Iraq, Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago in his first 100 days, according to the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian. Donald Trump is scheduled to make his first international trip in May, when he travels to Brussels for a meeting with NATO heads of state.
*Eisenhower did, however, make a visit to a combat zone in Seoul, Korea as president-elect in December 1952.
Approval rating after first 100 days
Highest: John F. Kennedy – 83 percent
Lowest: Donald Trump – between 40-45 percent*
Using data from the Gallup Poll, American Presidency Project recorded that despite such blunders as the Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy’s approval rating jumped significantly (11 points) during his first 100 days in office. Ronald Reagan’s jumped by even more at the outset of his administration, shooting from 51 to 68 percent. While presidential approval ratings generally tend to rise at the outset, Bill Clinton’s dropped three points during his first 100 days (from 58 to 55 percent), and so did Barack Obama’s (though his three-point drop brought him to a still respectable 65 percent, about average for new presidents since Eisenhower).
As of April 26, the Gallup Poll, which tracks presidential approval ratings daily, put Trump’s approval rating at 40 percent. An ABC News/Washington Post poll put Trump’s approval rating near the 100-day mark as 42 percent, while another by Fox News put it at 45 percent.
Except where otherwise noted, these tallies apply to all U.S. presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Donald Trump.
Sources: FiveThirtyEight, American Presidency Project, CBS News, TIME, U.S. State Department Office of the Historian