As measured by Gallup, President Trump’s approval rating hit a new low, reported Monday and based on interviews conducted over the three days previous to that. Gallup found that 36 approved Trump’s performance as president, while 57 percent disapproved, with the remaining 7 percent expressing no opinion.
That gap of 21 percentage points between Trump approvers and disapprovers is an absolutely horrible rating by any reasonable comparison and especially considering that he’s been in office just two months. His Gallup approval number has fallen 9 percentage points since he took office, and his disapproval has risen by 12. The graph of those numbers has not exactly been steady, but the downward trend has been fairly relentless, fueled by his constant stream of disapproveable words and deeds. Personally, I would say there’s no reason to expect the trend to improve suddenly, especially if Trump continues to lie so much, behave so boorishly and achieve so little legislatively and policy-wise in general.
Given the current incumbent’s egoism and egotism, it’s hard to imagine or predict how numbers like these will affect his mood or his behavior. It may be possible that he will hit a rock bottom low of his most devoted admirers who don’t care about the lies or the behavior or the achievements and the numbers will stabilize or even improve.
There are several contrary facts and thoughts to the dire picture described above that should be noted by those who are more inclined than our president to keep things in perspective.
One: Most of the other polls that regularly measure presidential approval look better for Trump than do the Gallup numbers. I make no apology for basing this piece on Gallup, given its long history and prestige. But this chart compiled by Real Clear Politics will give you the latest numbers by seven well-known polling operations. In none of them is Trump “above water” in the sense that he has more approvers than disapprovers. It’s a fairly complete train wreck, approval-wise.
Two: Even the Gallup number of 36 percent approval is not the worst in the history of presidential approval ratings, as measured by Gallup and summarized here. Barack Obama’s lowest rating was 38, but of course that’s over eight years, versus two months. Another recent two-termer, Bill Clinton, bottomed out at 37 percent over eight years in office, which included impeachment. Most other recent presidents, even including Ronald Reagan, had a lower low than Trump’s current number, but no one has ever gotten anywhere near this low this early in their term. We’ve seen presidents lose the confidence of the electorate before, and badly. But we’ve never seen an entire term filled with a case of buyers’ remorse.
Three: We all pay too much attention to polls in general, especially considering that, as they say, the only one that matters is the one taken on Election Day. Of course, on Election Day, Trump also dwarfed the record for the largest popular vote loss while winning the electoral vote. It will be interesting to see approval ratings from the three close states (Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin) that decided the electoral vote outcome. But even if we go there, we have to keep in mind that the question on the ballot that day was not whether voters approved of Trump but whether they preferred him to Hillary Clinton. Still, it’s hard to imagine what goes through Clinton’s mind when she sees numbers like these.
Four: Last thought, and it’s intended to be at least halfheartedly kind to the president, if I can pull it off.
It used to be normal for a new president to start with an approval rating in the 60s, 70s and even 80s. After a campaign, there was a tradition of much of the public dropping their partisan lenses and trying to unite behind the commander-in-chief, at least at the beginning of a new incumbency. It appears that those days are pretty much over. Partisan perceptions have grown much more rancid. If Hillary Clinton had won the election, the likelihood of very many Republicans setting aside their partisan perception of her long enough to tell a pollster that they approved of her job performance even in the early months strikes me as quite low. And if Trump’s last standing challenger during the primaries, Sen. Ted Cruz, were the new president instead of Trump, I doubt many Democrats would be setting aside their partisan perceptions long enough to give him a chance.
This is among the factors making our country less and less governable, but I don’t have any serious expectation that the old norms are coming back any time soon.