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What Trump's approval ratings mean — and what they don't

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
President Donald Trump has excellent approval ratings among Republicans, comparable to what most presidents see from their own partisans at this point in their terms.

If you believe that approval ratings measure anything reliable or important or even interesting, you might like to know that Donald Trump had the worst first month in office of any president since the dawn of approval ratings, by a wide margin.

Personally, I can’t stop checking the approval polls, every couple of days. But I’m not really sure why I or we should care, except for the possibility that they will make Trump so crazy his head will explode or he will start a war or tweet something really strange, even stranger than he already has.

In case you can overcome a similar ambivalence and want to check the numbers, political number-cruncher Nate Silver offered a smart, calm overview of the “approval” picture here.

Silver aggregates 18 polls by 16 different organizations. In just five of the 18 did Trump have more approvers than disapprovers. There is exactly one, by Rasmussen, an organization that historically produces a lot of polls more favorable to Republicans, in which Trump is approved by more than 50 percent of the electorate.

Naturally, that Rasmussen poll is the only one the president himself has publicly cited, which is further evidence of his lack of honesty or critical thinking skills. When someone can’t acknowledge negative news about himself, it’s a problem. When that person has the nuclear codes, it’s a little scary. I could write him a nice sentence in which he would acknowledge that he has work to do to convince more Americans that he is the man for the job, and then pledge to do that work by listening to them and doing his job better.

But that’s not the way Trump rolls. Why? Because he can’t stop selling, or because he thinks the audience is stupid, or perhaps because he is psychologically incapable of acknowledging or even entertaining himself the unpleasant truth of what these poll results suggest. And so he limits himself to the outlier — which itself would not look good in historical comparison to other presidents at the beginning of his term — and pretends that’s the only one.

Part of this is not his fault. Trump has excellent approval ratings among Republicans, comparable to what most presidents see from their own partisans at this point in their terms. He gets close to a zero from Democrats, however, which bespeaks the anger, fear and revulsion they feel, but which also suggests we are no longer in the era (which used to be more normal) where members of the opposite party would give a new president a chance. He also is below water among independents, which should worry him more.

But to spend any more time talking about those polls would conflict with my first thought, expressed at the top, that approval ratings far away from the next election are not worth too many pixels.

Instead, if you can stand it, I offer a small anecdote from my childhood. In the Boston area, where I spent my early years (during the Eisenhower Administration), we had a local kid show called “Big Brother Bob Emery.” (This is not a 1984 “Big Brother” reference, it’s the show biz name of a sweet avuncular old fellow who hosted a noontime show for Boston-area kids.) And Big Brother Bob Emery had a shtick: During every show he encouraged all us kids to get a glass of milk, hold it up, and they would show a picture of President Eisenhower beaming baldly from behind a translucent American flag waving in the foreground. And Big Brother Bob would announce: “A toast to the president of the United States.”  And “Hail to the Chief” would play and we would drink our milk and toast to Ike. I actually did this.

My parents were Adlai Stevenson Democrats, but they were also first-generation Americans and it would never have occurred to them to tell their kids not to toast Ike just because he was not from their preferred party. They liked Ike too, even if they didn’t vote for him, and if a pollster had asked them whether they approved of him, I believe they would’ve said yes. Unfortunately, I can’t ask them, but I’m pretty sure they would join me in being a little sad that’s it’s become so hard and rare to be friendly across partisan and ideological lines.

I can’t quite believe I’ve written this sappy (but true) reminiscence, but the level of “four legs good; two legs bad” partisanship is starting to really worry me. (Now that one actually is an Orwell reference, from “Animal Farm.”)

Have a nice weekend. See if you can find someone you disagree with but whom you respect and trust enough to discuss your differences with. It’s getting harder all the time.

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Comments (27)

Not feeling conciliatory

I am 72 years old, and this is the first time in my memory that I refuse to "find someone on the other side and make peace with them" A vote for Tromp was a betrayal of American values. More than thee months in from the election, I still cannot communicate with friends or family who voted Trump. I consider their Trump vote to be an attack on my family, the women in my life, my gay friends and my black friends. There will be no peace, no compromise, no surrender, no exception. I consider myself to be in the state of total war with Trump supporters.

Yep

Hate to say it, but John you pretty well nailed it, I'm not quite as wise (old) of an elder, but pretty close: I've taken enough of this BS and I ain't going to take no more!

Never the less

Never the less, regardless of "feelings", the principles of a democracy remain the same, no matter the level of maniac elected.

That is, we nurture what trust and respect we can in the civic conversation, or we give up on the whole idea of democracy.

All democratic governments go through bad times. Sometimes very bad. Look at Chile, Argentina, Spain, Greece, Italy ... but things move on.

Democracy

Things move on though because people like us fight for decency. Without us, countries like Chili, Argentina, and Spain would never have pulled out of their tail spin. And even so, their regimes did a lot of damage before they were taken out.

My goal is to minimize the amount of damage the Republicans do while they're in office, minimize their time in office, and get the country back on track as soon as possible so it's not only a decent place to live, but also a beacon for the rest of the world.

Time to roll up the sleeves and get to work!

No Compromise, etc.....

Pretty pathetic attitude. The election is over. Your side lost. Get over it. In 4 years you'll have another chance.

The fact is that a LOT of people voted for Trump because they were fed up with our political and business elites and where they were leading the country. This was NOT a vote against women, gays, minorities, or LEGAL immigrants.

The GOP didn't do themselves any favors when the categorically opposed everything that Obama proposed regardless of its merits. Trumps initial victory was against the GOP leadership that was behind this take no prisoners strategy.

The left wing isn't doing itself any favors adopting the same attitude. It's reinforcing the anti-establishment attitude that got Trump elected. It's not going to push Trump out of office. To the contrary, it's going to make his movement stronger.

What I find pathetic is the

What I find pathetic is the "your side lost" attitude. A truly pluralistic approach(not that ANYONE who voted for the pu$$ygrabber in chief has a pluralistic attitude or even knows offhand what that might be) holds that we are all on the same side, that the common good is our goal, that our fellow man is our responsibility. Nobody lives in a state of entire independence. Thus, there is no "your side" or my side. That kind of sentiment is a clannish, sort of "Go Vikes!" attitude. It represents a rather primitive approach.

The attacks on minorities and dissenters that were taking place at Trump rallies during the campaign were enough for thinking people and the majority of American voters to realize that a vote for the kind of person, the kind of country, Donald Trump represents was a vote for bigotry. His attitude toward the dignity of women is appalling. And his selection of some real miscreants as some of his closest advisors has borne this out, as has his empowerment of government profiling of certain minorities and the banning of their entry.

Thanks!

Thanks, John, for writing. I'm with you all the way on this. I'm having a very hard time understanding how anyone can stand behind and extol this insecure, immature man-child who's bereft of a moral or ethical center.

The more Democrats disapprove

The more Democrats disapprove of Trump, the more Republicans will approve of him. Part of it is partisanship, part of it is confirmation bias, part is just human nature to defend your choice. BTW, I think the same was true when positions were reversed when Obama was president.

But it really doesn't matter yet. The real test will be in a year when things are or are not better.

And while Trump can fake it to a degree, a coal miner or autoworker or whatever knows whether he/she has a job or not.

We Know What We Know

While the autoworker or coal miner will know if he/she is working, and if so, how much is in the paycheck, I wonder if our bubbles have hardened so much that it won't matter one way or another. If the autoworker is still out of work in 2018, or is working stocking shelves at the local Dollar Store, will it be Trump's fault? Or will it be the fault of Obama, Hillary/the liberals in general?

Actually, I was appalled by

Actually, I was appalled by some of Obama's actions and really disappointed in him. However, he looks like an angel compared to the steaming pile of Donald we're stuck with. Thinking people evaluate their political choices and don't shoot from the hip or make an emotional choice.

“When someone can’t

“When someone can’t acknowledge negative news about himself, it’s a problem. When that person has the nuclear codes, it’s a little scary.” I remember when Obama was saying that his only problem was Fox and that is why people disagree with him on such and such thing… Of course, it was only Fox which was against Obama and it is the rest of the media which is against Trump.

Why Trump doesn’t pay attention to negative polls? Maybe because he learned (as we all should have) during election that the polls asking about Trump are not reliable? Does Trump think that his audience is stupid? Maybe but so did Mr. Gruber and Mr. Rhodes and many others in Obama’s camp. And how often did Obama acknowledge an unpleasant truth?

Why can’t we all be honest? It is an excellent advice to discuss the differences with those you disagree but respect but it assumes that we listen and try to understand and ready to accept the unpleasant truths, even about people we admire. Obviously, judging by the first comment here, Democrats are not in that mood even though they claim to be tolerable, understanding, accepting, etc. But they would rather apply that to terrorists than to Republicans.

Here is a nice piece explaining what they should do: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/im-silicon-valley-liberal-traveled-1634001....

Sean Spicer in

Sean Spicer in December:

(quote)

“One of the things that the Trump campaign gained notoriety for, and was criticised for,” Mr Sherman began, “was banning reporters and banning outlets. You’ve said, I think, that that’s not going to happen?”

Mr Spicer replied: “Look, there’s a big difference between a campaign where it is a private venue using private funds and a government entity. I think we have a respect for the press when it comes to the government. That is something you can’t ban an entity from.

“I think, look, there’s a big difference between a campaign where it is a private venue using private funds and a government entity,” he continued. “And I think we have a respect for the press when it comes to the government, that that is something you can’t ban an entity from. You know conservative, liberal, otherwise I think that is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”

(end quote)

So what are we moving toward , Mr. Gutman ? You seem to have some familiarity with totalitarian states.

Note for future reference that Obama did not make certain media outlets the continual focus of every contact with the public and did not "ban" certain major media outlets from participation in media events.

Let's be fair

I am not here to defend Trump, as I have said many times. I am here to defend the fairness and it is obvious that the media is not fair to Trump so it may not be upset that he is not fair to some of them. I wish he were above this fray but unfortunately he can’t. However, the Left has only themselves to blame for Trump, as I also have said many times, and all these attacks are actually helpful for him as someone has already noted. But, to answer your question, we are not moving towards totalitarian state, at least at the moment. And yes, Obama was singling out Fox every time he could and excluded them from asking questions many times.

False equivalency--preventing

False equivalency--preventing access as opposed to complaining.

And please tell us how many times Obama complained about Fox--a couple of times in 8 years ? Did he play up the issue wherever he went and whoever he was having a press conference with? I don't think so.

Sorry, but there is no equivalence there.

Wrong approach to begin with

I personally think that public press conferences by the President (and, in fact, other press conferences) are useless and even harmful for understanding. First, by its nature, press conference limits a number of questions and gives a presenter an opportunity to pick the favorites (and yes, Obama was doing it quite often, not a couple times, but MSNBC did not report on that; plus Obama had only one unfriendly media outlet while Trump has dozens – which does shape his behavior to a certain degree, whether we like it or not, because he is human, too). The right way to do it is to request all questions in writing and make it compulsory to respond to all of them. Of course that will eliminate the show but are we looking for a good presenter with quick wits as a President or a thoughtful person who takes time to answer difficult questions (or at least has good staff to do it)? Do we need a quick response or the right response?

Within the year

probably less, we'll have a good idea of what doesn't work.
After Trump does his Hoover imitation and sucks up the economy, the Dems will find their FDR to clean up after the elephants.

I thought

Didn’t Hoover build Hoover Dam and ordered other large infrastructure projects, almost exactly what Democrats want to do now to jumpstart the economy? And no, it wasn’t FDR who ended the Great Depression, it was the WWII. But you are right, we will see in a year or so…

Right so far, but

Hoover also raised tariffs, causing trade to fall.
He also tried to balance the budget by raising tax rates across the board.
Sound familiar?

Technically

The Hoover Dam was authorized in the 20s, before Hoover was President. It certainly was not meant to jumpstart the economy. Hoover had a deep ideological objection to that sort of thing.

The idea that "WWII ended the Great Depression" omits the obvious fact that it was the massive govvernment spending necessitated by war that ended it.

And the Depression

was on the way out well before we entered WWII.
That's why FDR froze the monetary base in 1937, temporarily stalling the recovery.
The effects of building up our military in the late thirties certainly added to the stimulus.

Hoover wasn’t a big fan of

Hoover wasn’t a big fan of public works but he reluctantly agreed to expand it as a way out of recession – that is a fact (see Emergency Relief and Construction Act, 1932). Raising taxes – that indeed sounds familiar, that is what Democrats want, I think. And economy was getting a little better under FDR but not necessarily due to his policies – historians still argue about that, if I remember correctly what I read in my son’s AP US History book.

Wrong

Polls matter. Trump is totally unacceptable to Democrats, barely acceptable to independents. Reason - he is by far the most vile and unqualified person ever in the role, which he finds new ways of demonstrating every day. He also always lies, preached hate and never admits being wrong.

He isn't a Republican, isn't a patriot and doesn't really want to be President. I am not sure the right word, but like Czar, to recognize his interest in being the constant center of attention. Most of the thoughtful Republicans who totally didn't approve of his negative message appear to have gone into hiding. To think Trump is simply a symptom of partisanship underestimates how troubled our society is.

When Bush was elected, the country was very divided and many didn't feel he was legimate, but Democrats and independents saw him as a fundamentally decent man - guy who would be a good neighbor you could talk to. Trump is not someone anyone in their right mind would want to deal with as a neighbor, as he has no respect to anyone else. Just observe his handshake or how he belittles other people.

In other words, all the dislike we have accumulated in the short period we have had him in our face is richly deserved, not so much because of his policies, but his Donnie Downer persona. He is the most serious mistake our country has ever made.

All I can say is . . .

Eric, Thank You. So well written, as always.

Agreed

And unfortunately the comments here confirm the problem. Not sure how Americans will stop living in their always reinforcing bubbles?

But Obama DID listen, and

But Obama DID listen, and what he got was a congress who would not even grant him a chance to appoint a Supreme Court justice. The Republican congress from day 1 swore to bring him down. THEY are the ones who never listened. And the Democratic party is tone deaf as well. I will always believe Sanders would have won the presidency. I personally have listened to many Trump supporters; I just hesitate to believe that he will bring to them what they want.

Trump absolutely does pay

Trump absolutely does pay attention to the polls. He's obsessed with his numbers, and he pretty much admits to that. He pays attention to the Electoral College slim majority he got (it was so slim that he feels obliged to exaggerate it, lie about it repeatedly to the point where whole roomsful of (1) Congress members or (2) journalists fall silent as he repeats his aspirational, but untrue, claims of How Big I Won. They're embarrassed for him. One guy last week threw exact numbers at him and he blithely blamed a staff person, "I've been told that.," and blew right on. He did not admit the lie.

Trump invented the idea that there were "three to five million illegal votes" in the national election. That's a claim he started to make after Jill what's-her-name of the Green Party did formal vote counts in a couple of states: Finding no voter fraud, no inaccuracies. Again, whole rooms of witnesses to Trump's fake claim here fall deadly silent, out of deep embarrassment for him because everyone in the room--even Trump--knows that the figure is a figment of his sick imagination, his NEEDINESS. He doesn't understand democracy well enough to realize what bad effects his lies on this issue undermine our system.

The man also refuses to watch his mouth. It seems that since his father died, there's not been anyone to tell him which way is up, and to get his act together. No one who's done business with him wants to do any further business with him, because he cheats his business partners and his bondholders. He won't let the public see his tax returns because he's hiding something in them (and No, he is no longer a private person; he's the very public person of the President, and shouldn't hide his possible dirty connections from us). He tries to command the FBI and other intelligence agencies to withhold investigative results from the public, when those facts are about him and his White House appointees. The list of offenses--and he's only a bit more than a month in!--boggles the mind with indicators that the man doesn't understand the Constitution or recognize the valid existence of anyone who didn't vote for him.

The Republicans who actually think and have a sense of dignity can't stand this man. But they have a legislative agenda that they need him to hype and then sign. So they put up with him and bite their tongues. What they pass will astonish those who voted for Trump to get some change in Washington and because he made certain promises not to hurt them. The GOP Congress and Trump are already hurting the common person, and just wait until people see what they're planning to do to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other essential agencies like the CDC, the NEA, NEH, Agricultural regulations, consumer protections. The emotional, not rational, Trump voters will regret their votes.

Sociopath or just a pathological liar?

A Sociopath
A sociopath is typically defined as someone who lies incessantly to get their way and does so with little concern for others. A sociopath is often goal-oriented (i.e., lying is focused—it is done to get one’s way). Sociopaths have little regard or respect for the rights and feelings of others. Sociopaths are often charming and charismatic, but they use their talented social skills in manipulative and self-centered ways.

Compulsive/Pathological Liar
A compulsive liar is defined as someone who lies out of habit. Lying is their normal and reflexive way of responding to questions. Compulsive liars bend the truth about everything, large and small. For a compulsive liar, telling the truth is very awkward and uncomfortable while lying feels right. Compulsive lying is usually thought to develop in early childhood, due to being placed in an environment where lying was necessary. For the most part, compulsive liars are not overly manipulative and cunning (unlike sociopaths), rather they simply lie out of habit—an automatic response which is hard to break and one that takes its toll on a relationship (see how to cope with a compulsive liar).

And the clear, #1 priority of the Trump administration is reducing the impact, credibility, frequency of fact checking by the media.