A non-alternative fact: Trump’s approval ratings are improving

REUTERS/Eric Thayer
According to HuffPost’s trendline, President Donald Trump hit bottom in mid-December 2017, when his average ratings were about 25 points “underwater.”

Selective perception and confirmation bias are devils that afflict many or most of us. It’s a struggle, but intellectually honest people try to see the facts, even those that we wish weren’t facts.

The current incumbent president is not intellectually honest, and one way he fails that test is his apparent willingness to notice only facts, and even “alternative facts” (by which I mean falsehoods) when they are favorable to him. He has evinced this tendency across a wide range of subjects, but a huge portion of that tendency seems to relate to his desire to believe himself to be more popular than he is and his policies to be more successful than they are.

As part of my ongoing occasional effort to track the ups and downs of President Donald Trump’s approval ratings, I have occasionally taken note of his tendency to mention only whichever poll (often Rasmussen) showed him to be the most widely approved of (compared to the others which show him less-approved of) and even then, he is basically incapable of acknowledging the most basic facts of how unpopular he remains, compared to other first- and second-year presidents.

Because I strive to a higher level of honesty than that, I rise today to say that Trump’s approval rating have been improving, fairly steadily and not insubstantially, looking at all the credible pollsters who measure it. I rely for my numbers on the Huffington Post, which is among those who aggregate the approval ratings of various pollsters and publish an updated average almost every day.

According to HuffPost’s trendline, Trump hit bottom in mid-December 2017, when his average ratings were about 25 points “underwater.” That means his average approval number of 32 percent, was 25 points below his average disapproval number of 57. Seriously bad, but then they improved.

In the two months since then, with plenty of ups and downs in individual polls, the average rating, per HuffPost, as of yesterday afternoon, was 43.6 percent approval, 52.2 percent disapproval for an “underwater” margin of less than nine percentage points.

It’s hard for me to understand this improvement based on any improvement of his personal conduct or on his success at Making America Great Again. But I accept that views can (and obviously do) differ on this score. Still, my effort at intellectual honesty precludes me averting my eyes from the numbers nor pretending they are not a significant improvement compared to his ratings for most of the past year (since about last March, just after he took office, when they were similar to what they are now).

The other shoe, if we’re going to be honest in a way that the current incumbent seldom is, is that Trump’s approval ratings are still bad, very bad, just not as historically terrible as they were two months ago. They are still “underwater,” meaning the approval figure is lower than the disapproval number, and it is still true that no president, since the invention of approval rating polling, has had a worse start to his presidency in approval rating terms, even taking into account his recent rally.

Again, in the spirit of honesty and full disclosure, other presidents have had lower approval ratings, just not this early in their presidencies. Using Gallup’s historical polling (here), which go back to Harry Truman, you can see that, at their lowest point, several presidents have had lower approval ratings than Trump does at present. But, in all such cases, it was later in their presidencies and, of course, Trump is less than halfway through his first term. We know less than nothing about what his poll numbers will do from here.

If they continue to rise, perhaps it will be because he has changed his ways, but I won’t get my hopes up.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/23/2018 - 09:39 am.


    On the other hand, 538 (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/?ex_cid=rrpAugust) with this low approval being 36.9 in August.
    Either way, most Americans don’t like him, and his ratings are worse than they were a year ago.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/23/2018 - 10:26 am.


    I would expect his approval levels to fluctuate. My guess would be that if and when they improve it will among centrists and conservatives who’s support waffles. He might get bump for instance among that group depending on his response to the Florida shootings. To the extent that he promotes the standard NRA response, he’ll do well among that demographic, and that’s a group that tends to feel threatened by any kind of gun control speculation.

    To be honest, these numbers could be produced by something a trivial as the Olympics, people are preoccupied with something else, and in a more generous mood.

    On the other, if we’re at a tipping point regarding gun control, his predictably ridiculous response might backfire. And of course anything other serious crises could trigger a plunge in approval, we are only 13-14 month into a 4 year run.

    On the other other hand I would expect some crises fatigue to set in eventually. Human beings in general don’t like to live in a constant state of alarm, they tend to adapt to stress levels. Once you stop being alarmed by Trump and his behavior you can give yourself permission to stop paying attention, and that can be reflected in the polls. It’s called desensitization. If you stop paying attention Trump starts looking less like an alarming president.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/23/2018 - 10:52 am.

    A few words about “bias”

    Confirmation bias is a statistical artifact. Selective bias is a perceptual phenomena. Bias itself is an experiential tendency. None of these “bias” make critical thinking impossible or even more difficult. In fact bias can be an intellectual asset, its difficult to imagine how bias towards publicly confirmable observations, logic, compassion, or legality, interferes with intellectual integrity. Biases doesn’t determine attitudes they’re just some among many influences that can affect cognition and intellectual outcome.

    The existence of bias is a mundane observation, not an heroic insight. Obviously intellectual integrity requires intellectual honesty, insight, and reliable observations, but it doesn’t require the eradication of “bias”. Bias can be noise that you filter out, or can be an asset that you rely on. My experience is that the only people who stumble around the concept of bias are people who think the mere appearance of “bias” destroys credibility. Such assumptions simply elevate style over substance, that’s actually a form of intellectual dishonesty in and of itself. The illusion of “unbias” can only create an illusion of credibility. Real credibility is simply about being consistently… credible.

    If we want to talk about credibility or intellectual honesty, here’s the most important thing anyone can say, and it has nothing to do bias: “Credibility takes years to establish, and minutes to destroy.” Remember that and you’ll do just fine.

    It’s actually kind of weird to see some of these frequent references to confirmation bias, as if it explains polarization or intellectual disagreement. Confirmation bias is a statistical artifact that can skew data, it’s not a psychological demon. If we want to talk about statistics we should recognize the fact that many statistical analysis deliberately build bias into their models in order to isolate relevant cohorts, data sets, or observations. Bias isn’t a demon, it can be a very useful tool.

    Facts exist independently of bias. Trumps popularity numbers are Trumps popularity numbers no matter who presents them. If someone provides reliable facts, and someone else rejects those facts, that’s not “bias”, it’s a form of stupidity, ignorance, or dishonesty. The concept of bias doesn’t “explain” anything in this scenario, it actually obscures the true nature of the behavior.

    We don’t need to inoculate ourselves against bias,or claim to do so in order to establish our intellectual integrity. If you have something say, just say it, and make sure what you say is true. You can preface your “facts” with mumbo jumbo about bias if you want, but I don’t think it really enhances your credibility.

    • Submitted by Tom Genrich on 02/26/2018 - 12:59 pm.

      Hoisted by your own petard?

      I’m afraid talk of confirmation bias is much more than “mumbo jumbo.” No one should take Wikipedia as the last word on any subject, but for one unaware of the reality, and the pernicious effect, of confirmation bias, perhaps Wikipedia might be a good place to start. After reading through the excellent overview, do note the references section, where you’ll discover that what you just read was supported by 143 links to decades of research. I don’t believe you are familiar with the literature, as I am certain that not even the fiercest critic of the concept would characterize references to the concept as “weird” given the concept’s standing in the social sciences.

      I’ll admit that I’m fuzzy on what exactly you are endorsing here. A value-free fact collection as a necessary precursor to critical thinking? Great. I don’t know that anyone would want to challenge you on that. But note that one well-documented manifestation of confirmation bias is to gather up facts only to the point where one’s views are confirmed. In the context of this article, Mr. Black’s oft-stated (and exceedingly well justified, in my mind) disdain for our current President represents a pre fact-finding disposition that might lead him to fixate on facts that demonstrate Trump’s failure of leadership (his dismal poll numbers) while averting his eyes to the improvement those numbers represent compared to his numbers over most of the past year. To his credit, Mr. Black is both aware if his disposition and mindful of how it might obscure his approach to his subject.

      I would expect any fact finding, and any subsequent articles, pursued with eyes wide open would be more informative than those same exercises conducted with averted eyes. Wouldn’t you? And yet decades of research tells us that eyes wide open are the exception and averted eyes are the norm. And that the surest way to keep those eyes wide open is to diligently monitor one’s own cognitive processes to manage “averted eyes” and other forms of confirmation bias.

      Mr. Black is doing that monitoring in this article. If you still think there is something “weird” about that, consider: To avert one’s eyes from the decades of scholarship on confirmation bias while fixating on one’s own perceived intellectual rigor as evidence enough that talk of confirmation bias is a bunch of mumbo jumbo — that process itself may be a demonstration of a confirmation bias at work. Which is to say, with this post of yours, you may be hoisting yourself on your own petard.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/23/2018 - 11:42 am.

    When the “trains run on time” and “enemies of the state are vanquished” and the “economy flourishes”, there are few that complain about threats to democracy.

    Barring a cataclysmic disaster, the “new normal” becomes tolerable to more.

    It’s the way it has alway worked.

    We adapt, accept and accommodate.

    That is how survival works.

    Malleability trumps principle.

  5. Submitted by Marc Post on 02/23/2018 - 12:47 pm.

    Dead cat bounce

    He was already at historic lows. He had nowhere to go but up. He’s right when he said he could shoot people on the street and not loose support. The right simply doesn’t care what he does or says. It’s a cult of personality. He’s made a mockery of the “new normal”.

    He was also correct about the polls. The only one that matters is in November.

  6. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/23/2018 - 12:49 pm.

    This “bump” for Trump in the poll is probably due to many people actually agreeing with the Koch-paid ad campaigns in many parts of the country: that the “tax reform” is going to net them great benefits.

    A one-time bonus (if you’ve lasted at least twenty consecutive years at Walmart, for example–most employees don’t last five–you get $1000) is the most anyone will see, and too many Americans aren’t paying attention to the fact that the “tax reform” bill Trump trumpets contains tiny tax breaks for some middle class folks that will disappear in six years, while businesses and the super-wealthy won’t even have to face the Alternative Minimum Tax that costs Trump himself several dozens of millions of taxes every year–if he’s worth as much as he says he is.

    A reminder, too, to Eric: Sometimes, watching the ups and downs of questionable polling gets you into weeds, like obsessing over daily weather reports and forgetting about climate change.

    • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 02/24/2018 - 06:42 am.

      CNN informs us that Wal-Mart is one of many companies handing out bonus checks. In addition to bonuses, Wal-Mart raised their minimum wage by $1 per hour, and credited the tax reform in doing so.

      Many other companies are using the tax break to hire more people and invest in New equipment.

      It’s a wonderful thing for working American families and for the American economy.


      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/24/2018 - 02:05 pm.


        That ‘raise’ was from $10/hr to $11/hour.
        Still not enough to feed a family on, and I suspect that it only applies to those minority of Walmart workers who work full time.

        • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 02/25/2018 - 09:51 am.

          Why the scare quotes around raise? If it was $10 per hour, the workers just got a 10% raise.

          That’s a wonderful boost in most anyone’s book, but still we have wealthy, out of touch Democrats referring to $1000 bonus checks as “crumbs”, and others mocking substantial wage increases.

          I agree that raising a family on $11 per hour would be tough; I recommend holding off on starting one until you’re better positioned to provide a suitable standard of living.

          • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/01/2018 - 06:05 pm.

            Unless you’re a fiftysomething who already has kids and who was thrown on the scrapheap due to their employer’s stealth policy of age discrimination. Having been self-employed for 24 years, I haven’t run into this, but since age discrimination is supposedly illegal, the employers who want to dump their older workers fire them for trivial violations of company rules while excusing worse violations among younger workers.)

            There are more of these displaced older workers than you might think, and WalMart may be their only option, especially in smaller communities.

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/01/2018 - 06:09 pm.

        WalMart didn’t need a tax break to raise wages. Raising wages would in itself have given the company a tax break, since employee wages and benefits are one of the many items deducted from revenue before taxes are computed.

        In fact, the Walton siblings would STILL be billionaires, even if they doubled their company’s entry-level wages.

        That raise is a token gesture meant to impress the rubes and maintain support for the current Republican president.

  7. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 02/23/2018 - 07:15 pm.

    Its no mystery why Trump’s approval is increasing.

    He started out by seating an excellent SCOTUS justice.

    Then he brought ISIS to heel. They’re not completely done, but they are close.

    Then he backed little rocket man down (no more missiles have been fired).

    Then he got several US companies to re-patriate billions of dollars, and expand operations back here.

    Then he signed an historic tax revision which not only immediately returned money back into their paychecks (crumbs to rich Democrats), induced employers to:

    1. Increase hiring
    2. Give bonus checks out.

    If he gets the border secured, as the country demands, we will see his numbers sky-rocket, and he knows it.

    Bet the farm; it’s going to get done.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/25/2018 - 05:50 pm.

    Many good comments

    Like they say don’t make trades on your portfolio by watching it day to day, Most of us pretty much resigned ourselves to a; lefties could not change gun control, if we can get some progress I’m all for it, but arming teachers isn’t it. So if we can agree on that point 1 out of 1000, OK, I’ll go for it. As a previous comment er noted, the tax law change, well folks its the road to hell. Call it a pay day loan, it is not a tax cut, its a loan on your kids future. If any one noted, Berkshire Hathaway claimed a $29B gain from the tax law change, point is 2% of the tax cut went to 1 company! Its still a long way to the mid terms and the next election, 1 good deed does not cover up for a lifetime as a bad actor.

  9. Submitted by John Appelen on 02/25/2018 - 11:39 am.


    If you can get past the womanizing, bragging, lying, etc… What is not to like?

    He seems to be getting things done that many Americans want done.

    It seems to me that most of the disapprove folks are focused on the style instead of the results.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/26/2018 - 08:28 am.

      Surely your joking?

      Trump isn’t really getting anything done, and a clear majority of Americans appose his policies and initiatives. It’s his supporters who are focusing on style rather than substance, and that has always been their focus.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/26/2018 - 09:31 am.


        I have found that what matters most to citizens is how their family is faring TODAY.

        And right now:
        – economy is good
        – wages are rising
        – taxes are lower
        – ISIS is running
        – N Korea has stopped testing missiles
        – illegal immigration is down

        Some is Thanks to Trump and some is not, however he gets the credit just as Obama did for the US economic recovery that would have happened if he was there or not.

        The thing that frustrates me most is that citizens are happy to pass their costs on to others, including our kids.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/26/2018 - 12:32 pm.


          On your definition of getting things done don’t you think?
          Drove the country into another $1.5T debt for his already billionaire buddies. You do know that Berkshire got ~ 2% of that $1.5T? No I am not saying Buffet is a “T” supporter.
          Created confusion in the military over transsexuals, or better yet, is making racism, sexism etc. acceptable.
          The economy was already good, but hey we can’t give Obama any credit for pulling us out of the great recession.
          He has more or less destroyed our relationships with Canada, Mexico, UK, and counting, sure isn’t mister Roberts, neighborhood.
          He took a non-issue “Dreamers” and turned it into a racist battle cry.
          He is putting religion into our politics, so much for separation of church and state.
          He has created greater divisions in our country than we have seen since perhaps the civil war.
          He has sowed the seeds of distrust and malignant throughout our governemnt agencies (FBI, CIA, Justice, etc. )
          He continues to destroy our safety net while lining the pockets of himself and the uber-rich.
          He has made the Russian style totalitarian, oligarch run governemnt our new goal.
          He has filled the DC swamp with mostly self serving folks and personal agendas.
          He has made polluting America Great Again.
          Etc. etc. etc.
          Your right he has accomplished a lot!

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/26/2018 - 03:29 pm.


            Do you think the normal voter thinks that in depth?

            I think most people are out happily living their lives, not nerds like us sitting in front of a computer watching every good / bad tribe detail. 🙂

  10. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 02/26/2018 - 10:02 am.

    “Illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border is “the lowest in 17 years.”



    This is why his approvals are rising. He’s making good on his promises.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/26/2018 - 10:33 am.

      Pay Attention Class

      Border crossings plummeted in the wake of the Bush Recession. They have been a net zero since then.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 02/26/2018 - 11:59 am.

        Net Zero

        I am not sure Net Zero is a very good goal… That meant that if 400,000 illegal workers are deported… 400,000 new illegal workers with no background check have entered the USA…

        The good news is that apparently Trump’s rhetoric and ICE pressure are apparently serving as a deterrent. How about we get to some serious net negative years and reduce the number of illegal workers in the USA.


      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 02/26/2018 - 01:00 pm.

        The only way we can measure the flow of illegal crossings with any certainty, is to measure arrests.

        “Experts have told us that Trump’s rhetoric has played a role in deterring illegal immigration, perhaps more so than his newly issued policies, which may take longer to implement on the ground.

        The recent dip in apprehensions likely does signify a trend, in particular as apprehensions typically rise in March and early spring,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, spokeswoman for Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that researches migration.

        Apprehension data is generally used as a metric to measure illegal immigration.”


        In the months since this article was written, ICE has ramped up enforcement, arresting illegals and getting them home more quickly. That’s a winning ground implementation.

Leave a Reply