I hate to confess that I look at President Trump’s approval ratings almost every day. It’s an illness. But I have restrained myself from writing about them for several weeks because, basically, there’s no real movement. I sort of promised myself I would write about them only when they make a new high or a new low, and they haven’t done either, or, to be more precise, every time they have reached or almost reached the old record high or low, they turn around by a few points to the very bad (but not record bad) place they’ve been all along.
(A slight adjustment to that statement. Trump has certainly not set a record for worst approval ratings by a president. But he has had the worst ratings of any president this early in a term. On the other hand, the fact that the numbers keep reverting to the previous bad-but-not-record-setting-bad norm leads me to wonder what, if anything, will cause a real breakout in either direction.)
I follow the ratings two ways. Here’s Gallup, which has the longest track record on these things and which updates its numbers all the time. They have shown his approval rating in the upper 30s and his disapproval in the upper 50s for several months now. The disapproval has touched 60 or even 61 a couple of times, but always, immediately, drops back into the upper 50s. His approval is the same in reverse. Trapped in a zone between 34 and 40 for months. I also look at a compendium/average of many approval ratings maintained by the Huffington Post, which you can see here, but they paint a similar picture. Ratings very bad, approval locked in the upper 30s, disapproval in the upper 50s.
It’s possible to convince oneself that, in general, very few Americans are changing their approval feelings in either direction, and he is well under water. But if that makes you think that he will be easy pickings for the next Democratic nominee (assuming that Trump is seeking a second term and the world still exists), you should note the paragraph below, from a Washington Post column that ran two months ago but that I just stumbled upon while thinking about approval ratings. It’s by David von Drehle and was headlined: “Trump’s continued attacks on Clinton tell us why the Democrats lost.”
The paragraph argued that:
Approval ratings are a mirage. They ask the public to compare the president to some theoretical standard or ideal. Do you approve or disapprove of the way the president is doing his job? Compared to what? Lost in a desert of ballot-box ineptitude, the Democrats are crawling toward the false oasis of Trump’s low ratings — as though blind to the fact that Trump was never popular to begin with, and still he won.
The point is that on Election Day you have a choice of the candidates on the ballot, even if you aren’t crazy about of any of them.