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FiveThirtyEight pegs Trump’s polling approval at 41.1%

41.1 percent approve of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president; 54.0 percent disapprove.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
41.1 percent approve of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president; 54.0 percent disapprove.

A small gloat, and then a relevant thought about the future of our wheezing experiment in self-government.

First the gloat — but it’s really just the usual update every few weeks of my occasional series on the approval rating of the current occupant of the Oval Office. As usual, no major changes.

Based, as usual, on the fivethirtyeight.com weighted average of many pollsters’ approval ratings, President Donald Trump’s numbers have declined measurably but not much over the past two weeks. The political numbers gurus at the site say that the adjusted average of recent credible polls, as of Wednesday morning, was:

41.1 percent approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president; 54.0 percent disapprove.


That’s a gap, in the wrong direction if you are rooting for Trump, of 12.9 percentage points. I won’t round it up to 13 to make it look worse. That’s not how I roll. But that’s quite a bad approval rating — not historically bad but clearly bad. His most recent short-lived rally got him to a still bad (but-not-as-bad) gap of 9.7 percentage points below water. 

The small gloat is this: When I last I wrote, CNN’s politics watcher Chris Cillizza called Trump’s approval the highest it had been in many months, which led to the ridiculous headline that Donald Trump was more popular than ever.

No, he wasn’t. It was one poll, even if from a highly regarded pollster like Gallup, and other polls taken at the same time suggested that it was an outlier. Since then, Gallup’s next number showed Trump’s approval level falling back to where it has been and, at 42 percent, within less than a percentage point of the 538 average.

I won’t bring that up again. The latest numbers suggest that Trump’s numbers are bad, not historically bad but very bad, and the recent trend is in the direction of worse. But if the story-till-now continues, it probably won’t fall much further and could recover soon. Or not. (I actually can see the future, but choose not to look.)

On to the worrisome but relevant (I hope) thought. A candidate with a below-water approval rating can win an election if he or she is running against someone whom enough voters dislike even more. That was one of the keys to the unexpected outcome in 2016.

According to an exit-poll-driven post-election piece by CNN, exit polls found that 14 percent of all voters disliked both candidates, and that this group of double dislikers broke for Trump a staggering 69 percent to 15 percent. If the double dislikers had stayed home, or had refused to vote for either of the major party presidential nominees, Clinton would have won in a landslide.

Two ways you can go with that insight. One is that the Democrats need to nominate someone more “likable” than Hillary Clinton. I am not Clinton’s biggest fan, but I am sure she would have been a much better president. Nor do I vote (at least I hope I don’t) on anything as silly as likability or the ridiculous rather-have-a-beer-with test.

But, to nail down the possible importance of that final point – and I say this from the gut and with deep conviction: Donald Trump has almost no ability to get people who don’t like him to like him. He has little ability to get people who are not already part of his core support to vote for him based on his actual policies and their likely positive impact on the nation and its people.

But, apparently, Donald Trump’s great charm (and I use the word sarcastically) is his ability to talk smack about anyone running against him (as he did with every one of the Republicans he defeated for the 2016 nomination and as he did relentlessly and shamelessly against Clinton and is already starting to do against the Democrats preparing to run against him in 2020).


He does it by such classy maneuvers as assigning his opponents a disparaging nickname and, if necessary, accusing them of crimes far more serious than the crimes he has very likely committed.

It seems to work. And if it continues to work, the election will not be a referendum on whether a majority of Americans approve of the job Donald Trump has done as president. (A vote he could not possibly win unless he breaks out of the low-approval hell he has inhabited throughout his term.) But Trump’s great gift might be his ability to get people to dislike his opponent even more than they dislike him. As he himself might tweet:

“Sad.”

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Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/29/2019 - 09:43 am.

    I agree with your basic points.
    Looking at 538
    (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/?ex_cid=rrpromo)
    the ‘approve’ and ‘disapprove’ ratings have consistently mirrored each other over the past year. If I had to make an eyeball analysis, I’d say that the ‘disapprove’ ratings show slightly more variability, but the basic trend is consistent: about 54% of respondents disapprove and 41% approve.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 05/29/2019 - 09:53 am.

    “Likability” is the wrong metric by which to judge Sec Clinton. But it’s a convenient shorthand to represent people’s opinions of her after 20-odd years of disparagement by the GOP. Trump doesn’t have the time to build up that kind of negative feelings towards any of his prospective opponents. Worse for him, he’s lost credibility among pretty much everyone outside the 40% +/- that “approve” of him. Does that number represent a floor or ceiling for him? Could it possibly be both?

    Point being: Trump’s path to reelection is to make people dislike his opponent more than we dislike him. I don’t think he’s capable of that.

    • Submitted by Misty Martin on 05/29/2019 - 12:47 pm.

      If only others saw the President as we do – I’ve never disliked anyone in the Oval Office as much as I dislike our current Occupant of the Oval Office, and I remember Richard Nixon and the “Watergate” years.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/29/2019 - 04:28 pm.

      But don’t forget – some people could care less about Trump, other than the fact that he’s pretty much a rubber stamp for the Republican agenda. Specifically, for example, the selection of future Supreme Court justices.

      They’d vote for a trained dog if he’d sign off on their favored SC picks.

      • Submitted by Misty Martin on 05/30/2019 - 10:16 am.

        Pat:

        I like dogs – that would be a step up, wouldn’t it? I guess I’m a “non-Trumper” like POTUS called Robert Mueller today.

    • Submitted by Kathleen Castrovinci on 05/30/2019 - 08:57 am.

      A lot will be happening between now and Election Day, and NOT for the positive coming from the Trump Administration.

      Never in my lifetime have I experienced such lawlessness of one man and a party so complicit in that lawlessness. Trump has sabotaged the once Republican Party and turned it into his own. No one dares stand up to him lest they be attacked. Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, Kevin McCarthy, and their ilk in Congress are his lap dogs to destroying the institutions this country has stood on for 243 years.

      Sitting out the 2020 Election is NOT an option. So much is at stake, it would take me an hour to list them all. If we do not vote out Trump and his lackeys, we then are doomed. I mean that.

      • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 05/30/2019 - 06:37 pm.

        Ms. Castrovinci, with all due respect, Trump has not “sabotaged” the Republican party. The Republican party has spent 50 years specifically cultivating a base who would vote for an authoritarian ignoramus like Trump, a base that by now, three generations in, also has had the opportunity to replace the original merely cynical leadership with amoral true believers.

        And that is why simply removing Trump, by impeachment or vote, will stanch some very immediate harms, but do very little for the future of the nation.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/05/2019 - 10:30 am.

      When you lose to Donald Trump the fact that you were the most unpopular and distrusted candidate Democrats ever put on the ballot cannot be ignored. “Likability” is clearly a legitimate metric when millions people refuse to vote candidates they don’t like.

      Right or wrong, fair or unfair Clinton was historically unpopular and distrusted. And it’s important to keep in mind that Clinton’s unpopularity was NOT simply a products of Republican attacks, she earned that unpopularity in a variety of ways over the decades.

      Leaving Clinton behind the lesson here is that the Democratic Party elite and establishment need to stop pretending they know who people will vote for, they’re record in the last 40 years is 2 our of 6 presidential victories. And it looks like they want to risk 2 out of 7 with Biden. Biden is a lot more popular than Clinton, but he’s an extremely flawed candidate in many other respects.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/29/2019 - 12:07 pm.

    That 40% of those polled continue to indicate approval of the Current Occupant’s job performance has become the source of eye-rolling despair in this household. He has behaved as a dictatorial pretender, an American Mussolini, as if he is more important, and more deserving of loyalty, than the country. The Republican tax cut he championed has benefited few beyond the 1%, and has done nothing to create promised (through smoke and mirrors) “good-paying” jobs, while simultaneously placing on my grandchildren’s shoulders an enormous national debt that they’ll have to pay for through a diminished standard of living.

    Our international reputation is in shreds, thanks to diplomatic gaffes that likely embarrass everyone in the State Department who isn’t a Trump appointee, and every national leader with a functioning brain recognizes Trump as an incompetent poser of the first order. Socially, economically and diplomatically, Trumpian policies, such as they are, have demonstrated the President’s unapologetic misogyny and racism, as well as his near-total ignorance of virtually any policy field one might want in a responsible government official. He has – so far – been an unmitigated disaster for the country he pretends to lead.

    I don’t care if I have a beer with the President – no matter who s/he might be. Democrats have a historic opportunity in front of them, the product of a party and a leader who have demonstrated a host of characteristics damaging to our own society and its people, and to our relations with other countries. Any number of those characteristics ought to disqualify both the party and its leader from public office at any level.

    • Submitted by Kathleen Castrovinci on 05/30/2019 - 08:51 am.

      I agree with you 500%, Ray. What were voters thinking in 2016?

      I too fear for my adult children and Granddaughters. For they will be facing an America that wants to CONTROL their bodies and their ability to make their own decisions. Eventual loss of the freedoms and rights guaranteed under the US Constitution. A Judicial system that will not be fair, but ordered to judge them harshly. An Economic system that will enslave them to pay for the vanities if a man who cares NOTHING for the rule of law beyond his bottom line.

      You paint a realistic picture of the man who pretends to be President. I cannot bring myself to use that title before the name Trump.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/05/2019 - 10:37 am.

      Ray, I have to wear special glasses to keep my eyes from permanently rolling to the back of my skull. But… there’s hope I think.

      Trump’s “policies” are so stupid and ignorant they can’t help but lead to catastrophe for many of those who voted for him. The lost jobs, low pay, ongoing corruption, and farm crises will erode his support. I would say by the time we get to 2020 he might lose another 5%-10%.

      My experience is that his basic 30%-25% “core” is impervious to logic, reason, and reliable information or legitimate facts. But they can’t deliver enough votes to keep him in office unless Democrats blow it again.

  4. Submitted by Mike Riess on 05/29/2019 - 03:34 pm.

    538, is that the website that on election day 2016 had Trump’s chance of winning the election at 28.6%?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/30/2019 - 06:08 pm.

      And he lost.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/05/2019 - 10:43 am.

      Mike,

      You’re comparing apples and oranges. This is a simply compilation of existing polls, it’s not a projection. Statistically; predictions are far more complicated and fraught with potential errors than simple polls, or calculating averages. You can’t compare the attempt to predict the 2016 election with basic popularity surveys.

  5. Submitted by Scot Kindschi on 05/29/2019 - 05:56 pm.

    41 %? Hardly.

  6. Submitted by Richard Steuland on 05/30/2019 - 03:31 am.

    How can 41% be so disconnected? I think many don’t remember the Civics class from High School. I think many lack critical thinking skills. It’s now very obvious that our Democracy is under great threat. How can people ignore the results of this self serving egotist that is using his office to gain financially. Trump thumbs his nose at the laws put in place to restrain authoritarians. Everything Trump is doing will result in much poorer living conditions. From his rollback of environmental protections to the trillions increase in the national debt. The effects of his recklessness will take generations to right.

    • Submitted by Todd Kennebeck on 05/31/2019 - 04:46 am.

      Lack critical thinking skills? Why is it that if someone diaagrees with you, you feel the need to insult their intelligence? I usually don’t reply on these liberal bashing comments but sometimes someone needs to say something before the angry mob starts trying to drown witches again. When a high school kid can’t even where a hat, those of us with a different opinion tend not to make comments. So please understand that even though we tend not to comment it does not mean we lack critical thinking skills.

      Are you stuck in the CNN bubble? It makes me wonder with comments like I think our democracy is under a great threat.

      Look, you need to get some perspective. Not everything Trump is doing is causing poorer living conditions. The economy is soaring, unemployment at an all time low, and GDP is approaching 4% for the first time in years. Higher GDP means more income. Sometimes it takes money to make money and trump knows that very well.

      As for roll back of environmental protections, it was necessary. The over regulation was stifling business. Look at cases like this https://www.google.com/amp/s/thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/279421-epa-settles-water-pollution-case-with-wyoming-farmer%3famp . It doesn’t take much common sense to see how there has been some over regulation. If you are referring to going green, please keep in mind even if we went 100 % completely green tomorrow we would still have a problem because countries like China are doing twice as much pollution as the us. 29% vs 14%. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_issues_in_China. China gains an economic advantage over us the more of a disparaging difference there is.

      I grew up in Chicago and of course was a Democrat. It wasn’t until I stepped out if the bubble that I became a part of the 41%.

      • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 05/31/2019 - 12:25 pm.

        The criteria for a sound economy are: (1) it produces sufficient primary goods for all; (2) the wealth it creates is distributed fairly; and (3) it is ecologically sustainable. By these criteria, the present economy is profoundly poor and its trajectory is worse. A single case of apparent bureaucratic overreach from three years ago doesn’t amount to much compared with the civilizational collapse that our growth-based, fossil-fuel-driven economy has made ever more imminent. Strong national leadership would have spent the past several decades developing a global framework for a new economy with China, India and everyone else, not used a protestation of helplessness to continue business-as-usual.

        If you don’t recognize the damage that the Republican party is doing to our country – and that it, in conjunction with other global authoritarian forces, is doing to the centuries of humanity’s slow and hard labor toward morality- and dignity-based human society – then, with all due respect, something is missing in your critical thinking portfolio. The Democratic party, as defined by its establishment, is profoundly wrong in many respects, but it could be pulled to a better place by a thoughtful citizenry. That is not true of the Republican party, which has abandoned democracy for a pure and heedless quest for power.

      • Submitted by Richard Steuland on 06/04/2019 - 01:49 am.

        Trashing the enviornment in order to gather short term gain is madness. Critical thinking would lead you to this conclusion.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/05/2019 - 10:56 am.

        Todd,

        “Lack critical thinking skills? Why is it that if someone diaagrees with you, you feel the need to insult their intelligence?”

        When someone concludes that one’s critical thinking skills are deficient based on a variety of specious claims that they make regarding everything from economics to climate change, they’re not merely insulting people, they’re simply making an observation. We’re not required to pretend ignorant people are knowledgeable, or that false claims “might” not be false. One’s integrity is their responsibility, no one is entitled to ignore that responsibility and still be treated with the same level of respect. When you throw in other toxic features like racism and bigotry, sexism, hatred, and hostility, it’s gets worse.

  7. Submitted by Kathleen Castrovinci on 05/30/2019 - 08:46 am.

    Job approval ratings can and often do influence how people vote. Unlike Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearings, his job approval was in the 60% range. He lied about an affair. He did not associate with a hostile foreign power in order to get elected.

    Trump is half way through his first term with little accomplishment, Job Approvals in the low 40’s to upper 30’s with very high Disapprovals. . NOT a solid position to be in for re-election. Nor has Trump expanded his base beytond what it has been since the campaign.

    Trump’s whole tenure so far has been shrouded with clouds of doubt. The man cannot tell the truth about anything or anyone. It is all about him. His rallies are vanity shows of “Aren’t I GREAT?” The issues facing the Nation’s farmers, the Border fiasco, the Tax Cut that is NOT working for Main Street, blatant violation of the US Constitution, the continued obstruction by Trump regarding Congressional oversight, the continued investigations of everything connected to Trump world, and the fact that there are less voters now willing to re-elect Trump has to be troubling. Less than 40% of the Electorate does not make a winning formula.

  8. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 05/30/2019 - 09:53 am.

    Among Democrats, the conventional wisdom seems to be that all Democrats should vote and that they should unite behind the nominee, whoever it is.

    That’s all fine and dandy, but the real prize is people who don’t vote or who have stopped voting because their lives remain dreary and difficult, no matter who is in charge.

    If the Democrats can win over those voters, they will win in a landslide.

    However, the DNC still seems to be operating on its “we’ll run the person whose turn we think it is” strategy. That’s why they’re pushing Biden, and also possibly on the mistaken notion that a nondescript white male is what is needed to win the Rust Belt, especially Michigan.

    But if you look at the record in Michigan, you will see that Bernie Sanders narrowly edged out Hillary Clinton in 2016, that Obama won handily in 2008, and that Jesse Jackson won the Michigan primary in 1988. In other words, the Michigan voters are more adventurous than Beltway conventional “wisdom” says.

    The myth among hardcore establishment Democrats is that Bernie spoiled it for Hillary (as if no one else had the right to run in a primary once the DNC had decided that it was Hillary’s turn) and that all the “Bernie bros” voted for Trump or for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

    This is simply not true. A higher percentage of Bernie voters voted for Hillary than Hillary voters voted for Barack in 2008. The real problem in Wisconsin and Michigan was that too many people, especially black voters, didn’t vote at all.

    The record for candidates whom the DNC has pushed “because it was their turn” is not good: H. Clinton, Kerry, Gore, Mondale, Humphrey. Yes, four of these five did well in the popular vote, but under our crazy system, that and $2.49 will buy you a Happy Meal at McDonald’s.

    The Democrats’ electoral successes have come from upstarts like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. All had noticeable flaws, but they knew how to work a crowd and were fresh faces.

    The DNC should also forget about trying win over the 40% or so who love Donald Trump. That’s like trying to convert a Moonie to Unitarianism. Trump’s supporters are a cult of the mean, greedy, and ignorant (some of the above or all of the above), and they will not wake up till reality hits them upside the head.

  9. Submitted by David Moseman on 05/30/2019 - 10:53 am.

    The only approval rating that matters is among Republicans. As long as it hovers around 90% legislative gridlock will remain. Include that number in these tracking articles, Please.
    For those who wish to remove the “Current Occupant” might I suggest divest, boycott and defeat his supporters, both corporate and elected.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/05/2019 - 11:03 am.

      “The only approval rating that matters is among Republicans. As long as it hovers around 90% legislative gridlock will remain. ”

      Little bit of a math challenge there. Popularity among Republican’s is only a significant factor if Republicans can field 51% of the total vote. Given the fact they only comprise 30%-40% of the population in many areas that’s going to become increasingly difficult. No matter how popular Republican’s are among themselves, they can’t enforce gridlock if they don’t win elections.

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