Presidential approval gap: It’s getting extreme

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
On average, over the year from January 2018 to January 2019, the president has an approval rating of 87 percent among Republicans and just 8 percent among Democrats.

As regular visitors to this space have gleaned, I’m fairly obsessed with the approval ratings of the current occupant of the Oval Office. But, before you turn the page (ha, remember when there was such a thing as “turning a page”), this isn’t another update reminding you that, as bad as Donald Trump’s approval ratings have been, they really haven’t declined much. No, this short screed is about approval rating polarization.

Gallup, which has been polling on this stuff longer than anyone, did a little report yesterday that began with the news that respondents are more divided along partisan lines on the question of Trump approval than on any previous president.

On average, over the year from January 2018 to January 2019, the president has an approval rating of 87 percent among Republicans and just 8 percent among Democrats. Since the 1950s, Gallup has measured both approval ratings and the partisan identification of respondents, so it can say that that 79 percentage point gap across party lines in feelings about the Trump last year was the largest partisan approval divide across party lines ever (at least since the invention of polling and approval ratings)

One reason I would say probably ever is that this is not really about Trump. It’s about the fact that over the whole six-decade history of this analysis, Americans have become more divided, across party lines, on the matter of presidential approval. And pretty steadily more every decade.

In other words, neither Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter nor Ronald Reagan – all of whom were presidents during the period covered by the Gallup approval polarization study — had a single year in which the partisan gap in their approval vs. disapproval ratings was in the all-time top 15.

Bill Clinton, who served eight years, and who we may think was fairly polarizing, makes the list only one of those years, and his gap (61 points between his 85 percent approval among Democrats and his 24 percent approval among Republicans in 1996) is the smallest gap to make the list.

So the 14 biggest gaps all occurred during the current and two previous presidencies.

Clinton was followed by George W. Bush, who made the list in four of his eight years in office. Then comes Barack Obama, who makes the list of biggest-partisan-gap in each and every one of the eight years he served. Then comes Trump, who is two-for-two (he’s been president two years, made the list both years). In each of those years, Trump had just an 8 percent approval rating among Democrats. But Republicans gave Trump 83 percent approval in his first year, and then his Republican approval figure went up to 87 during his just-ended second year.

Yes, that’s right, Trump was able to set the all-time record for approval-rating partisan gap last year not because more Democrats abandoned his ship during his the second year, but because more Republicans climbed aboard.

I find this a little scary. Do you?

The full Gallup chart and write-up is viewable here.

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Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/17/2019 - 11:11 am.

    What’s scary is that he got elected despite a record setting loss in the popular vote which mirrors the polling results, and despite his lack of qualifications for the office.
    It’s clear that Republicans will vote for anything that walks (however slowly) that is labeled ‘Republican’.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/17/2019 - 11:48 am.

      It’s not just the label, it’s the hatred he espouses. The “good things” Trump was going to do involved hurting the people he needed to be hurting.

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/19/2019 - 10:16 am.

        Yes, I am reminded of the woman in the hurricane-ravaged area of the Southeast who was angry about the lack of federal assistance and said something to the effect of, “I didn’t think he was going to hurt US.”

  2. Submitted by mary mcleod on 01/17/2019 - 11:44 am.

    I hope that the next time MinnPost carries a story about political polling, it will include the number of people in that category. It’s one thing to know that 87% of Republicans support Trump, but it’s another to know that it’s 87% of a small number who still identify as Republicans. “Independent” is now the largest category, Democrats are second, and Republicans dead last. Let’s give the whole picture.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 01/17/2019 - 12:06 pm.

      If the point of the piece was overall approval your criticism would be relevant, but the article is about the gap between Republican and Democratic approval, so the fact that the Republican party is fading away really doesn’t matter.

    • Submitted by John OConnor on 01/18/2019 - 05:31 pm.

      Having taught Government and Politics in high school, this confusing use of % numbers was a critical take away!

  3. Submitted by Mark Snyder on 01/17/2019 - 12:12 pm.

    He gave Republicans the tax cut they had long-sought, even though he lied about who benefits from it. From that perspective, it makes sense they approve of his performance. What will be interesting is to look again after the current tax filing period when it becomes more apparent that we were sold a bill of goods.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/19/2019 - 02:16 pm.

      Actually, he gave himself a tax cut.
      It was tailored for the real estate industry
      (not that there is anything real about Trump).

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/21/2019 - 09:12 am.

        Didn’t he once say that he would make sure that people like him paid more in taxes?

        [Cue the inevitable “if you like your doctor . . ” reply]

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/24/2019 - 10:08 am.

      The tax cut (like most) was a bust. It had no traction in the last election and won’t in the next. Sure, some Republicans were happy with it, but enough to win elections.

  4. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 01/17/2019 - 01:20 pm.

    In a sense it’s not at all surprising given the demonization of the “other side”. Your favored candidate is not only right, but he/she is on the side of the angels. The other candidate is not only wrong or misguided, he/she is fronting for the devil.

    Is this new? Probably not. But now it’s a finely tuned political consultant machine whipping up “the base”.

  5. Submitted by Kathleen Castrovinci on 01/17/2019 - 02:21 pm.

    These are not normal times we live in , Mr. Black.

    The reality is that those keeping Donald Trump’s low poll numbers consistent are the very ones who bought into his lies, the con job he made them buy. The LIES he tells still to this day.

    It makes one shake their heads. Those who are finally waking up from this nightmare are regretting their vote. The Shutdown is showing strains amongst Trump voters who still believe Mexico is paying for the Wall and not them.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/17/2019 - 04:24 pm.

      And the polling for Obama wasn’t any better. The political divide is widening and that isn’t going to change. Democrats have embraced Socialism and a fair number of Americans don’t want it. What was left out of this story was Obama’s average numbers. Trump might be averaging 39 compared to the long running average of 53 but how did Obama’s numbers add up in that stat? My guess would be barely above Trump’s. Both have polled pretty close to the same at the same points in their presidencies.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/17/2019 - 05:02 pm.

        “And the polling for Obama wasn’t any better. ”

        Never forget that President Obama was twice elected with a majority of the popular vote. Individual-1 is stalking the halls of the White House due to an anti-majoritarian constitutional quirk, not a convincing expression of the popular will.

        “Trump might be averaging 39 compared to the long running average of 53 but how did Obama’s numbers add up in that stat?”

        They added up to 53%.

        Obama’s highest approval rating was 69%, and his lowest was 38%. By contrast, Individual-1 has never polled higher than 45%. His lowest (to date) approval rating is 33%.

        • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/18/2019 - 08:39 am.

          According to the Wiki page you pulled your data from. Obama’s 8 year total average was 47.9. Well below the 53 average list in this article. And if you look at the other columns, his highest disapproval was 57, just below Trump at 62. Obama’s average was lower than Bush43 too. So it appears to be a trend which makes sense as the political divide widens. (Something Obama can be directly blamed for).

          • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/18/2019 - 10:12 am.

            Yeah, because it was Ryan, McConnell, and Obama who met on the evening of the inauguration in 2009 to conspire to make pledge complete non-cooperation with the new presi…… oh forget I said that.

            But it was McConnell and Obama would made up a bogus precedent that a President in the final year of his term should not be allowed nominate someone to the Supreme Court.

            Ah, just never mind.

          • Submitted by ian wade on 01/18/2019 - 01:00 pm.

            Really? Why would Obama be directly responsible for the political divide…getting elected? Twice?

            • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/19/2019 - 10:21 am.

              I was not a major fan of Obama. At a time when we needed an FDR, he turned out to be more of a Tony Blair.

              However, from the time he set foot in the White House, the right-wingers were complaining about how “he was dividing the country.” It was one of those talking points repeated endlessly in the right-wing media.

              As far as I can tell, the most divisive thing he did was presidenting while black. (It’s amazing what some white people will say when there are no non-white people within earshot.)

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2019 - 01:34 pm.

            “(Something Obama can be directly blamed for).”

            That is nonsense* of the highest order. What did Obama do to divide the country? Be elected by a healthy margin of the popular vote, and then pursue the policies he ran on?

            I’m certain that race had nothing to do with it. No, the bigots and grifters who pushed the myth about his birthplace and who urged him to release his college transcripts were motivated by the purest form of patriotism, right? The fact that they suspected the first African-American President of being foreign born, or implied that his educational attainments were due to something other than merit just shows they were concerned for the Republic, I’m sure.

            *An by “nonsense,” I mean a number of words that would not pass moderation here.

  6. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/17/2019 - 03:24 pm.

    As long as he seats another conservative on SCOTUS, continues to stack the federal bench with solid conservative judges and gets a solid barrier built on the Southern border, we’re good.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/17/2019 - 05:37 pm.

      Even when we become part of the New Soviet Union?

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/18/2019 - 02:18 pm.

        Russia is a police state run by corrupt oligarchs, and led by a man who has built a personality cult of his followers.

        Why would any Trump supporter object to that?

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/20/2019 - 12:22 pm.

      Not to get off topic, but what do you see as the America, we as a country, gain with more conservative justices? How does America overall win, how do we become more united, equal, better justice, etc. etc? Curious into the philosophy, and how that aligns with “We the people etc” .

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/22/2019 - 04:51 pm.

        More conservative judges = more adherence to the founding documents= more stability. Equality and justice is, at this point, wholly in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure a solidly conservative bench will deliver all the equality and justice conservative patriots expect; I also expect leftists won’t agree.

        The judiciary’s job description doesn’t include uniting the country; never has. Honestly, I think we’re well beyond being able to do that through intervention of any branch of government.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/24/2019 - 10:34 am.

          ” Equality and justice is, at this point, wholly in the eye of the beholder. ”

          And if the beholders are all straight white “Christian” males, things look pretty good and there’s no need to change anything.

          That’s not who we are, Mr. Senker. You may not like it, but America is far more diverse than that.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/24/2019 - 08:14 pm.

          Well I’ll follow with the simple answer: You dodged the question, your answer does not in any way support. “We the people…..” it may support we the conservatives, which you are correct does not include those that are not “conservative” to your liking, we are however part of “We the people” that you seem to indicate should be enslaved to the “conservative” interpretation of the documents be what they are, to your satisfaction. Fair statement? Or are us other folks not part of “We the people”?

  7. Submitted by charles thompson on 01/17/2019 - 07:58 pm.

    Curtis – Define “we”.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/18/2019 - 03:09 pm.

    Elections are for chumps.
    All of Trump’s dictator pals get at least 99% of the vote.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/19/2019 - 04:02 pm.

    Every so often Eric refers to his previous life as a mainstream reporter trained in the “objective” or “neutral” style of reporting. As a “columnist” rather than a reporter he reports having a little more wiggle room but I still see some vestiges of the “old” Eric when I see pieces like this. That’s not meant as criticism or attack of any kind, it’s just my impression.

    Now one of the “vestiges” of old Eric I think I recognize appear in pieces like this that hark back to the olden days when reporter’s comfort zones lay wholly within the two party system. The truth is that the “old” days were never really as “neutral” as those guys like to pretend they were. They may have tried to strike a balance between Democrat’s and Republicans, but they almost always held firm to the status quo and elite interests that both Parties invariably represented. This is why they had such a hard time dealing with Sanders and Trump, neither of which “fit” cleanly within the predominate elite class of their respective parties. The instinct was to be dismissive of both candidates, passively in Sanders’s case, and actively in Trump’s case. It worked with Sanders, not so much with Trump.

    I see articles like this as an attempt to recapture the old glory days when Parties were Parties and there were only two of them. Of course Ms. McLeod (of the Clan McLeod perhaps? ) is absolutely correct to point out the error of omitting the largest constituency (i.e. independents) in order to pretend the duopoly is still the only thing that matters.

    For a variety of reasons the old guard of journalism is preoccupied with the “polarized” narrative, despite the fact that it doesn’t really describe our population or the current scenario. The simple fact is that we have a very unpopular president pressing a series of very unpopular agendas and policies that simply cannot be crammed into the old two party mold, no matter how much more comfortable journalist may be with that mold.

    So no, I’m not frightened by these observations. I am somewhat frightened by the fascist president in the White House. But since the numbers of Democrats and Republicans are both declining, the relevance of observations like this are becoming less and less relevant. And the most important percentage is the 75% that don’t trust or support Trump or his policies. As both Parties lose followers, you would expect the remainers to be those with the strongest Party affiliation, so the distance between the two in terms of Trump support would naturally increase. This might be frightening for the Parties, but it’s not actually frightening for the nation.

    I think the reason folks get alarmed by observations like these because in the olden days when the distance between “centrist” Democrats and Republicans was so narrow, reporters rarely had to parse them out beyond window dressing. There seems to be this persistent dream that the old status quo will re-assert itself, but It’s important to remember that THAT status quo was the dysfunctional political regime that created the current crises.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/21/2019 - 08:15 am.

    I guess another way of putting it…. If Trump were popular with a larger percentage of Democrats… THAT would frighten me. It’s actually kind of comforting to see Democrats pull away from fascism rather than try to meet it half way.

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