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.