Trump’s Polling in Perspective

While significantly more Americans disapprove of his job performance than approve, recovery is still possible.

Paul Brandus puts President Trump’s current approval ratings into historical context:

(Brandus excludes Gerald Ford from the list because Trump has now been in office longer than Ford. The same will be true of Kennedy come November 23.)

The only recent President doing worse at this juncture, then, was Jimmy Carter—who went on to lose in an Electoral College landslide to Ronald Reagan (44 states, 489 Electors to 6+DC and 49).

Still, he’s roughly 4 points below where Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, all of whom went on to rather handy victories, were. Indeed, Reagan won in an even bigger landslide.

Regular readers will know that I think Trump is a far inferior President, candidate, and human being than any of those four. And the fact that he’s been underwater—having higher unfavorables than favorables—for all but a brief honeymoon at the start of his presidency puts him in a unique category.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    It’s exactly what one would expect when a candidate wins with a minority of the vote, and then doesn’t even try to reach out to the majority. In fact, Trump’s been bashing the majority.

  2. CSK says:

    @Kathy: Trump has indicated a few times that he doesn’t believe he needs the support of anyone but the cult to win. This may relate tangentially to his other purported belief that if it weren’t for the Fake News, he’d have a 75% favorable rating.

    I do think he has some supporters who’d never publicly admit it, especially to a pollster. I don’t know how many of them there are.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    I’m always interested in gaining insight into a Trump supporter’s interior monolog, and this past Independence Day I had the opportunity to talk at length to a friend that voted for Trump as well as Obama. I’ve known this guy for years as a close friend’s family member, who I have seen at least once a year for a couple of decades, and sometimes more often at major events. We seek each other out and usually shoot the breeze about family, various job moves, the yearly 4th of July horseshoe tournament we both participate in, once or twice as teammates. He’s a nice guy, a family man, and quick with a light hearted joke.

    For some reason he started talking politics and vaccinations. I didn’t engage on the politics side as I was more interested in the vaccines, but I suspect the insights I gained applied to politics and other things as well. My contribution to the discussion consisted of me just stating that I’m happy to get any vaccine I can, based on my experience with diseases in Africa as well as my association with deaf students when I was in college, and the tripling of the deaf population in the years immediately following me because of the influx of people with birth defects caused by pregnant women contracting rubella. But then I just asked him questions.

    It was fascinating as he had a very “everyone must be a little right” attitude. Lots of misinformation: for instance, he was sure the modern vaccine regimen calls for 300 injections before the age of two, which he later conceded might be 300 vaccines, with multiples given in each injection. (The reality is 25-30 injections spread over two years, with 30-35 total vaccines.) But the overwhelming sense I got from him was that pe0ple he liked and trusted were coming at him from all sides, that he could find anything and everything on the internet, and it was impossible to sort it out so the safest route as a reasonable person was “cutting the baby in half”.

    I could easily see him being overwhelmed when one friend tells him that Trump keeps kids in cages and the other that no, they are kept in facilities more like country clubs. Or when one TV talking head says that Trump is destroying our relationship with our European allies and another says that by god, Trump is putting a stop to these allies taking advantage of us.

    He’s obviously had no personal or professional experience in trying to weigh and balance the credibility of opposing resources. I can easily see him voting either for or against Trump based on one thing that happens to hit him just before he walks into he voting booth. Maybe, “My plant is moving more jobs to Mexico, so Trump is a failure.” Or, “My plant is moving more jobs to Mexico, and Trump is against that.”

  4. Kylopod says:

    I still have a hunch his approval polls understate his level of support, due to a certain number of Republican-leaning voters who can’t bring themselves to express a positive opinion of him in polls but who will probably vote for him anyway. I’ve been like a broken record about this, but I think it’s worth reviewing again.

    According to CNN’s exit polls, just 38% of voters expressed a favorable view of Trump in 2016, yet 46% voted for him. Some of that, of course, was because Hillary’s favorability ratings were very nearly as bad as his. Presumably, the 2020 Democratic nominee won’t be as toxically unpopular as Hillary. But that doesn’t mean “Yes, Trump is awful, but…” isn’t still in effect, at least to some degree. It doesn’t need to be as strong as it was in 2016 to make a difference. Then there’s the fact that a lot will depend on who turns out to vote: if people who approve of Trump are likelier to turn out than people who disapprove of him, that’s another way he could do better than these polls suggest.

    Of course it’s also possible that his approval ratings now, unlike his favorability ratings in 2016, are an accurate measure of who’s likely to vote for him. In that case, either his ratings are going to have to show significant improvement in the next year, or he’s in trouble. But I’m not ready to make that assumption.

  5. Joe says:

    I work in a law office full of people I consider to be pretty sophisticated. One of my law partners who very much dislikes Trump asked another of our partners why she too didn’t hate Trump. Her simple response: “Have you checked your 401K recently?”

    People who spend time on this blog are reading a lot more about what’s going on in this administration than even college-educated sophisticated Americans. I don’t think we appreciate how little most Americans, even our college educated professional peers, read or care about anything other than the impact of the current economy on them personally. I don’t mean this as a slap at anybody. It’s just a fact. As long as people don’t perceive Trump is hurting their interests – defined quite narrowly – he’s doing fine and will be a known commodity in comparison with any “change” suggested by any different candidate. I wouldn’t call these people Trump fans. They just don’t care that much.

  6. Scott F. says:

    If recovery is still possible for Trump, what would be the means?

    The economy has been as good as Trump could have hoped, so it won’t be a sudden turn to better fortunes that will improve his approval ratings. His approval might go up if he were to stop the bad behaviors that people don’t like, but does anyone think he’ll stop lying and calling his opponents names? He might be proven innocent of all (or some) of the scandals that have plagued him – want to bet that will happen?

    I think only a war would rally greater support to Trump. Pray to god he doesn’t see that as his only recourse.

  7. Alex Hamilton says:

    This is really insightful and from my perspective totally true. Polls don’t matter anymore (if they ever did). What matters is the economy and voter turnout. You don’t need a poll to tell you the economy is doing well in the short run (notwithstanding the bubble it’s been built on), so voter turnout is the ball game.

  8. CSK says:

    @Scott F.: Trump will never stop the bullying and infantile name-calling, because his fans adore it. He’s a real man, you know.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    Trump is a racist. He has support among white people who are racist, and white people whose affections are for sale. They are also racists, because if you’ll shit on a black person for money you’re a racist. Period. You’re deciding that money matters more than freedom, more than equality, more than justice, more than truth. That makes you a whore*, a racist whore.

    Remember this the next time someone like @Guarneri pops up here to pretend racism doesn’t exist.

    *No offense intended to honest sex workers.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: Can I get the name of the person who advised her on her 401k investments? My portfolio is doing ok but not so well that I can see supporting Trump over it.

  11. Kathy says:

    @Alex Hamilton:

    Voting the pocketbook is a well-known phenomenon. Few presidents win reelection in bad economic times (though it happens). That’s why Dennison ought to be on his knees from now until November and pray to God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Satan, and everyone else there be no recession.

    If turnout will decide things in 2020, then a recession should sap enthusiasm for Trump, and/or add enthusiasm for his rival.

    A war is unlikely to garner him support outside his base, unless it’s something flagrant and fully justified like 9/11, and on that scale, too. If he goes into Iran on a flimsy pretext, he won’t get much support. Not after what happened in Iraq, and not if casualties are high.

    We can’t count on a recession, nor on an ill-conceived war; much less on some really outrageous revelation that may shock even his supporters (and frankly I don’t know what would, as he can deny anything and be believed).

    The best alternative is to nominate a Democratic candidate people other than the Democratic base will want to vote for. And if I knew how that was or what qualities they should have, I’d tell you.

  12. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:


    According to CNN’s exit polls, just 38% of voters expressed a favorable view of Trump in 2016, yet 46% voted for him.

    It’s the Latin-Americanization of US politics. In Latin America, since voters think that all politicians are crook and incompetent they vote for politicians that they know that they are bad, that they know that they have criminal records, because at least the politician in question will get things done.

    Trump voters think that all politicians are bad, that they no politician cares for them, so, they’ll vote for a politician that have credible accusations of rape, because at least he get things done, or something like that.

  13. CSK says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: Good point, but the Trumpkins refuse to believe that Trump is a crook or a sex criminal. All those accusations are fabricated by libtards.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    Trump is a racist. He has support among white people who are racist, and white people whose affections are for sale. They are also racists, because if you’ll shit on a black person for money you’re a racist. Period. You’re deciding that money matters more than freedom, more than equality, more than justice, more than truth. That makes you a whore*, a racist whore.

    I wonder how he’ll attack Kamala Harris if she ends up as the Democratic nominee…

  15. CSK says:

    @An Interested Party: His first line of attack with women is to denigrate their looks, but he can’t do that with Harris.