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.
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?