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No, Trump’s approval rating is not improving

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Something unusual about Trump, or perhaps about polarization and perhaps about the media environment, has caused almost all Americans to lock in solidly and immovably on one side or the other of the thumbs-up-or-down question on him.
A lot of people I talk to have the impression that Donald Trump’s approval poll numbers have been improving lately. It’s really not true. 

I assume those people have seen a particular pollster or two who have taken a recent approval poll and found a slight rise in Trump’s approval over their previous poll, a rise that is always less than the margin of error for that poll (meaning it is statistically insignificant). But they nonetheless report it as an improvement (which, in some sense, disregards the margin of error that they include in the small print).

My method — which is not brilliant but better than relying on a less-than-the-margin-of-error change in a single poll — is to rely on an average of many, many different polls monitored by the political-numbers-geeks at FiveThirtyEight, the site run by the legendary numbers guru Nate Silver. 

The FiveThirtyEight crew adjusts the polls for what they consider the strengths and weaknesses of the relative reliability of each. I couldn’t begin to pierce their methods, but I’m confident they know a lot more than I do about this. And they publish a daily update of the average. And they graph the movements of that average. You can find that graph here.

If you clicked through, you can see that there has been absolutely no significant movement since late January, when there was a not-huge-but-noticeable jump up Trump’s average disapproval number. But that didn’t last, and the approval-disapproval situation went right back to where it has been for a year and a half.

Trump’s disapproval number is about 10 percentage points higher than his approval number. As I write this (on Friday morning), the numbers are 53.3 disapproval/42.6 approval. If you check the site, they may have moved, but they won’t have moved much, as they haven’t in a year. 

This isn’t normal, by the way. Most presidents’ approval numbers move around more than this. Something unusual about Trump, or perhaps about polarization and perhaps about the media environment, has caused almost all Americans to lock in solidly and immovably on one side or the other of the thumbs-up-or-down question on him. 

You probably know I’m on the thumbs-down side. But it doesn’t seem to matter what anyone says, since very few Americans are switching sides on Trump, with a solid 10-point margin against him. (That doesn’t mean he’s going to lose in 2020, of course. He may succeed in vilifying his general election opponent to a sufficient degree that some of those who disapprove of him will choose him as the lesser of two evils.) And, of course, we’re still a year and a half away from that decision.

Anyway, to repeat, his approval situation isn’t improving. If anything (but I don’t think it’s anything) it’s moving the other way, but by numbers so small they don’t come anywhere near statistical significance. Here’s how the FiveThirtyEight crew described it in the most recent overview I could find:

“According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.7 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.2 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of negative 10.5 points). At this time last week, 42.5 percent approved and 52.6 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.1 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.2 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.5 points.”

Again, that slip of 0.6 percentage points in the net is nothing to take seriously. But it’s better than taking seriously an individual poll that shows him up (or down) two or three points, which wouldn’t even be statistically significant even within the confines of that one poll.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 07/26/2019 - 10:11 pm.

    I know it’s early and others will do this routinely later; but, if you take the do it yourself route and start with an electoral map app:

    And then look at Trump vs Biden in current state by state polls, ignore margin of error and the electoral college early poll comes out:

    Biden 412
    Trump 125

    With Biden holding small leads in places as competitive / unlikely as Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida.

    And near or beyond double digit leads in the 3 states that earned Trump the Presidency: WI, MI, PA.

    And the current betting line has a $100 bet on Biden paying $600. An opportunity not to be missed.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/27/2019 - 09:36 am.

    The approval numbers have stayed within the margin of error.
    The determinant will be the EC weirdness.
    Very small shifts of votes (in many cases due to turnout numbers on both sides) will determine the election results.
    And the fact that Biden is leading in preference polls is offset by the fact that a minority of Dems make him their first choice. So the poll leader is still a less than 50% pick to get the nomination. Save your money.

  3. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/27/2019 - 10:17 am.

    I think Trump and Biden are signs of an empire in collapse.

    Trump was elected because for a generation Americans have been lied to repeatedly by the establishment of both parties, about economics and war.

    Trump meanwhile has done nothing to arrest the trend toward collapse, doubling down on all the ecologically ruinous policies of every Administration since Reagan, while merely changing out plutocrats for kleptocrats.

    Biden represents Dems doubling down on all the reasons Trump was elected. Whether it is the eternal war machine or income inequality or selling out working Americans to corporations, banks and billionaires, Biden has never questioned these trends. His entire legacy is replete with examples of how he has voted for pathology, be it a war/surveillance machine well out of accountability, or trade agreements that empower corporations foreign and domestic while contributing to economic despair among the citizenry.

    Apparently now it is just about winning, and policy doesn’t really matter. My liberal friends implore me to vote for the Dem in 2020, no matter what. There is terror in their eyes, such that the policies of that Dem are made meaningless, it is only Trump Trump Trump. As if Obama 2.0 is pure light and openness, with Trump representing the darkness of the void.

    I see both parties leading this republic to collapse, no matter what, because the underlying assumptions are the same. Eternal growth, eternal progress, unquestioning of war/surveillance, we must maintain the life we have grown accustomed to no matter how destructive it is to ecosystems….

    • Submitted by Wayne Morford on 07/27/2019 - 07:46 pm.

      Except what you are saying is not true. You are saying things about Democrats that show and uneducated opinion based on half truths to outright lies. Democrats sold out no one.The Democrats are a war machine? Lol. Okay? In case you missed it Democrats are the ones who fight against income inequality and the selling out of Americans, but then they get told they are just giving stuff away for votes. Biden is a good man and a smart man. He is not a racist and a compulsive liar. Not sure how you cry about the environment and then stand here acting like Obama did nothing all while Trump has destroyed everything he did on the environment. Who was vice president while they were working on climate change and the paris accord. Oh yeah that guy you said destroys the environment. That guy who was vice president over the most consecutive months of jobs and economic growth of any admin in history. That guy whose admin was and is part of 10 straight years of economic growth, a record never seen in this nation. That guy who was vice president of the admin that brought us out of the second worst crash in our history, save our economy stemmed the hemmoraging of jobs and completely turned around and economy and handed it to the racist compulsive liar in chief. Yeah that guy who not only helped do all that but also raised median incomes by 5%. So sure tell us all about how Democrats hurt you somehow and this nation. Unreal.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/28/2019 - 08:04 am.


        Pollinator numbers during the Obama Admin crashed. Most of his environmental initiatives were set in place in his lame duck period, easily undone by Trump. Most of the Dem party has never questioned corporate, industrial agriculture, which is the driving force behind the polluted waters of the Midwest and the collapse of pollinators, Ms Klobuchar included.

        On economics, Obama set in motion the TPP/TISA/TTIP trade agreements, which would effectively have given foreign corporations rights above and beyond the citizens of America or any of our governments. That is one of the reasons Clinton lost, because she had hinted at open borders, with those trade agreements as “the gold standard.” Many working people have not forgotten it was Bill Clinton who gave us NAFTA and that “giant sucking sound” of industrial jobs heading south. It was also Bill who gave us unregulated media consolidation, which has solidified corporate propaganda, and he unleashed the banks to perpetrate the fraud called the housing bubble, and that everything bubble that is the so-called expansion since 2008.

        On war, I have yet to hear a fan of Obama call out Obama for what he did to Libya. He supported a right-wing coup of an elected president of Honduras, which contributed to the violence that caused so many to head to our border. Obama regularly bombed 8 different Muslim countries. He presided over the institutionalizing of the total surveillance state. His administration flooded local police departments with the used hardware of his eternal war machine.

        Republicans and Trump have been all of that and more on war and economics and ecology. But Dems don’t get to act like their party has been the good to Republican bad for working people or pollinators, the last 40 years. The evidence simply doesn’t support it.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 07/29/2019 - 07:23 pm.

          Yes, and while you fret about bees, children die in government custody. We are in triage Mr. Duncan, it’s a pity that your personal grievances get short shrift from the Democratic Party, but I assure you they will get less from the alternative. As gratifying as “watching it all burn” might be, and as fulfilling as it might be to say “I told you so” safe in the comfort of an unaffected life, some of us have others we need to think of. Slightly better than awful IS still better.

  4. Submitted by Henry Johnson on 07/27/2019 - 10:49 am.

    The thing about polls is that although some try to do so, they don’t accurately reflect who will actually show up at the polls to vote.

    Hillary Clinton had a modest but respectable lead in the polls if I remember correctly before election day, but lost – I’m guessing many people decided because she was ahead in the polls to therefore not bother to vote themselves, assuming she’d win.

    But of course, when too many people do that, you lose elections.

    The scary part about 2020 is that the Trump supporters have really taken the kool-aid, and they will go out to vote for him, come hell and high water.

    On the democratic side though, there are quite a few who in 2016 decided that Clinton wasn’t up to their ideological standards and/or who just didn’t like her, and stayed home.

    I was glad to see Pelosi and AOC at least pretending to be all okay with each other at the end of this last week.

    The last thing that we can afford is the democratic party to get so fractured that Trump and the Trumpublicans will sweep in and clean-up in 2020.

    It probably won’t happen, but I really wish the party and democratic candidates would start asking themselves before they make every new move and make every new policy proposal – “How will this play in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and the other swing states?”

    And if the answer is “Not well at all”, I think that proposal or that strategy move should be deferred or dropped.

    We can’t afford another 4 years of Trump, and Democrats need to win the votes of moderate democrats, independents, and disaffected and never-Trumper republican voters in the swings states to win – as they did in 2018, to make Trump a one-term president!

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/27/2019 - 11:14 pm.

    Trump is going to get more and more bizarre the closer we get to 2020. I think Trump believes some of the polls showing him being beat by several democrats, he just can’t let his supporters get that feeling. Eventually it is going to be a bridge too far for some of his supporters to support him and his bizarre behavior. I suspect there are still a few Republicans left with morality and decency. I think we will see more GOP members drop out as they don’t want their reputation ruined by Trump – it may be too late to save the reputation. Red state Virginia is already projected to go blue. Trump is trying to turn the Republican Party into a Trash Party where anything goes, and he is succeeding.

  6. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 07/28/2019 - 09:50 am.

    “Something unusual about Trump, or perhaps about polarization and perhaps about the media environment, has caused almost all Americans to lock in solidly and immovably on one side or the other of the thumbs-up-or-down question on him.”

    Mr. Black, seriously? This remains a mystery? Those who are in the authoritarian cult, 50 years in the making, follow their leader and won’t, or can’t, process the world around them. Those who are not recognize that Trump is a grotesque figure leading his party’s destruction of all that was decent and hopeful about the nation, and who is not capable of anything else. At this point, what flux would one expect across this membrane?

  7. Submitted by michael goldner on 07/28/2019 - 05:45 pm.

    Eric, It would be helpful to have the reasons behind the numbers. I am particularly interested in what about Trump keeps his numbers so constant, in the face of his day to day behavior. It may be more within your grasp and charter to talk about this for Minnesotans.

  8. Submitted by Mark Gruben on 07/28/2019 - 05:55 pm.

    “Something unusual about Trump, or perhaps about polarization and perhaps about the media environment, has caused almost all Americans to lock in solidly and immovably on one side or the other of the thumbs-up-or-down question on him.” Very true. I’ve been tracking Trump’s approval vs. disapproval ratings for the past couple of years, and while his approval numbers fluctuate quite a bit – within a range of 8%, his disapproval numbers fluctuate very little – within 4%. This suggests that his approval rises and falls based on things he says or does, while his disapproval remains fairly solid. Clearly, people who don’t like Trump feel very strongly about it, and he seems to be doing nothing to persuade them to change their views.

  9. Submitted by richard owens on 07/28/2019 - 08:59 pm.

    Stupid glee over the “building of the wall” is telling of an uninformed opinion that disregards huge engineering problems associated with that position. Wasted money.

    Rivers and fences = Floods and tangles

    The owner is separated from the asset on our side too.

    Yeesh. Look at the reality which is the geology and topology of this “staged political issue”!

    Eminent domain will destroy the value of the Rio Grande people.

  10. Submitted by Brian Nelson on 07/28/2019 - 10:25 pm.

    Curtis, why are we having to pay for this wall at all? He promised us that Mexico will pay for the wall. Certainly doesn’t sound like he is keeping his promises.

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