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Trump’s approval/disapproval gap slowly widens

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
As of this morning, 41.3. percent of Americans approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as president; 54.3 percent disapprove.

The approval/disapproval ratings of President Donald Trump are bleeding. They are not gushing blood but dripping it steadily over the past month or more. His numbers are not crashing, but the size of the negative gap between his approvers and his disapprovers widened steadily but extremely slowly for a month and a half.

As of this morning, 41.3. percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing as president; 54.3 percent disapprove. Sixteen months before Election Day 2020, he is underwater by 13  percentage points and the depth of the water has been growing lately.

Yes, this is the occasional and probably not-eagerly-awaited update of my series on Trump’s approval ratings, which I usually call the most boring series ever. That’s because Trump’s ups and downs, approval-wise, have been so slow. As always, I rely on the blending of many approval polls managed by the sabre-metrics wizards of fivethirtyeight.com (affiliated with the legendary political number-cruncher supreme, Nate Silver).

Click here and you can see what I mean. Or keep reading while I blather briefly on and I’ll give you another link at the bottom. If you look, you won’t have to squint. The negative movement is easily visible to the naked eye, but it is a fairly steady drip, not a hemorrhage of political blood.


The blended average maintained by the 538 crew shows Trump’s already-bad approval number edging down, a tenth of a percent or two at a time (and his disapproval number up) most days since roughly mid-June, with a noticeable acceleration in the trend over the past five weeks. The size of the negative gap has drifted up to negative 13 points today.

It’s bad, of course, to be under water at all. All recent presidents have spent some time under water during their term. But Trump has been under water since a week or two after Inauguration Day. That’s unprecedented. And it’s worse when the negative gap is growing. And Trump’s approval deficit has been trending now since May, quite slowly but fairly steadily.

Smarter (or possibly dumber) people than me will tell you why. I have long had a negative view of “how Donald Trump is handling his job as president,” which is typical of the language approval polls employ.

I have, frankly, been astonished at how well his approval numbers have held up, considering my own view of how he handles his job. During his first year and more, I kept waiting for his already-bad and always-bad numbers to just crash or crater or collapse or some other c-word. They didn’t, and they still haven’t. He might recover all of his recently lost points next week or next month, or he may continue to slowly bleed support.

Earlier in his term, his approval number flirted with numbers lower than the current level, but rarely and never for long. He last dropped below 40 percent right after his party got clobbered in the 2018 midterms. But he crept back to his normal bad-but-steady approval picture within a few months.

Is something different, more enduring going on this time? I don’t know. Neither do the people working to win him a second term, but I bet they’re plenty worried. And I read a certain panic masquerading as confidence in his words and actions.

Oh, I promised to offer you the link again to the 538.com chart of Trump’s approval ups and downs. Here it is. Check it again tomorrow and see if the trend continues. I’ll try not to write about it again for a month, unless something big happens.

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 08/28/2019 - 10:48 am.

    It’s interesting to note the views of farmers who Trump sacrificed in his ill conceived approach to address a real issue with China (“Trade wars are good and easy to win”). So far, from what I’ve read, they seem to be criticizing the policy but not the person behind the policy. I have to wonder how long that will last.

    • Submitted by David LaPorte on 08/28/2019 - 09:01 pm.

      Most Trump supporters will cite the economy as the reason that they approve of him. A subset really like his racism and xenophobia, but rarely say that out loud (although they hint at it with complaints about immigration, since they don’t include immigrants from Norway).

      Trump may lose those who have given him credit for Obama’s economy if the Trump economy hurts them. But he’ll keep the subset that like him for his racism.

  2. Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/28/2019 - 10:53 am.

    Now that his trade and immigration policies are starting to really hurt the rural voters who elected him, I sure hope his approval is going down.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/28/2019 - 03:00 pm.

      I wouldn’t count on it.
      His support (apart from the ultrarich) is based more on belief than reason. Same goes for the Evangelicals, who also tend to be rural.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/28/2019 - 05:05 pm.

      If I were a betting man, and coincidentally I am, I’m betting against significant erosion in Don Trump’s rural and farm support.

      But, given that Don Trump can ill afford to lose even a small amount of support, a relative few votes can make a big difference when you won a farm state by 10K votes.

      • Submitted by Robert Ahles on 08/29/2019 - 09:31 am.

        Many Trump supporters are much like Trump. Their opinions are little influenced by reality. They continue to believe whatever seems to make them feel better about themselves. Trump’s childish behavior, his infidelity, his lies, his flip-flopping, his lack of accomplishment and inconsistencies matter not a whit. Their blind allegiance to a single political leader is not patriotism or American, it is the characteristic of a Sheeple.

        “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States.

  3. Submitted by Misty Martin on 08/28/2019 - 11:30 am.

    Eric:

    Personally, I hope the gap widens to the size of the Grand Canyon, and Trump falls in!

  4. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 08/28/2019 - 11:52 am.

    I wonder if the increasing craziness isn’t taking a toll. I mean, just in the last few days we had the Greenland fiasco. Melania met Kim and is a great admirer. Also, maybe we could bomb a hurricane into surrendering. And let’s not forget he’s the “chosen one.” You’ve got worldwide alarm at what is happening in the Amazon and he not only skips a G7 meeting on the environment, but also brazenly lies about it. The list goes on and on. These episodes are followed by “fake news” or claims he’s just joking but some people aren’t buying it anymore. There has to be a segment of people who voted for him that are going, “My God, he’s not a well man and is in charge of our economy and security.” They might never vote for one of those socialists, but privately are regretting voting for him.

  5. Submitted by Mark Gruben on 08/28/2019 - 12:48 pm.

    I believe it’s Trump’s disapproval numbers, and not his approval numbers, that really tell the story. In general, his approval numbers have fluctuated considerably since he took office, but his disapproval numbers have fluctuated very little. The upshot of this is that Trump’s approval numbers are not personal, but hinge on the things he says and does. Meanwhile, his disapproval numbers ARE personal; people that dislike him tend to dislike him, period…..no matter what he says or does.

    • Submitted by Tom Crain on 08/30/2019 - 11:09 am.

      Actually Trump’s approval and disapproval have fluctuated very little. Take a look at the links to 538 dot com that Eric posted in this article. You can see for yourself that compared to modern presidents (back to Truman) how flat and unchanging his #s have been.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/01/2019 - 10:35 am.

        Actually, 538’s numbers
        https://fivethirtyeight.com/
        Show that his approval/disapproval gap has been steadily widening in the past few months; he’s about 13 points under water. Admittedly his numbers were worst in the year after his election (19 points under water), but that was partly shock.
        His current numbers do not bode well for 2020, although there is the EC weirdness to consider.

        • Submitted by Tom Crain on 09/02/2019 - 11:04 am.

          Paul, are we looking at the same #s? His net negative was highest around Day 200 at about 20% and have inexplicably narrowed since.

          Like I said – compared to any modern president his net approval has been flat. Unchanging. This is the partisan climate we live in now.

          https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/?ex_cid=rrpromo

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/02/2019 - 07:09 pm.

            It’s a matter of emphasis and interpretation.
            I’m looking more at the past year or so, where I see a gradual increase in the net negatives. This would seem to be a better predictor of his popularity over the next year than his numbers at the beginning of his term (the well-known honeymoon effect).
            I don’t feel ambitious enough to try for a regression analysis.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 08/28/2019 - 12:49 pm.

    As noted before, the typical “T” supporter doesn’t know, that they don’t know, that they don’t know. They aren’t going to change their view unless their house burns down from “T” policies, and then suspect they will blame Obama! .

  7. Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/28/2019 - 01:29 pm.

    I wonder whether voters that aren’t political junkies haven’t been thinking too hard about POTUS job performance; but as we get closer to the election year there’s a little more focus on whether he’s earned 4 more years.

    Less directly related to Eric’s thiughts, the UK seems to be moving towards the hard Brexit that Trump endorses. It’s hard to see how that happens without significant economic disruption. How that will effect our election is anyone’s guess…

  8. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/28/2019 - 02:05 pm.

    Yeah, this show is getting really old, horrible cast, poor writing, losing sponsors left and right, season 2 is definitely going to be canceled.

  9. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/28/2019 - 02:40 pm.

    My bet is that once Trump’s finances are known–how much less wealth he has than he has claimed, how much he owes and to whom, and how really badly his businesses are going–Trump’s support among those who voted for him thinking he would be that guy he played on television will drop.

    He is frantic that nothing be revealed, but unless the federal courts are already completely in his thrall, we’ll find out tax return data and personal and business financial details.

    After all, he campaigned as some sort of financial/business genius, and people believed him. Some people, anyway.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/29/2019 - 08:53 am.

      Now its been reported that his Deutche bank loans are backed, co-signed basically, by Russian Oligarchs with ties to Putin. We have never had a president financially reliant on a hostile foreign power before. But don’t count on his supporters to abandon him even with this news. If Jonestown taught us anything: Cult followers will do and accept anything from their leader.

      • Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/29/2019 - 10:18 am.

        FYI, this story has already been retracted.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/29/2019 - 08:25 pm.

          Well, sort of.
          O’Donnell said:
          ““Tonight we are retracting the story,” he told viewers.
          He said that he does not know if the story is true, but it was not ready for primetime. “Saying, ‘if true,’ was simply not good enough,” he said.

        • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 08/30/2019 - 08:48 am.

          Its not been disproved it was retracted due to a threat from Donald’s lawyers. They really sent out the big guns, even going after a few small blogs. I don’t recall Donald ever doing that before, so this one got their attention, I wonder why? Besides, as Cokie Roberts, long time Washington insider once said in regards to a multitude of false claims against Hillary: “It doesn’t matter if its true or not, its out there.” But given what we know about Donald’s bankruptcies and inability to raise money through traditional means, coupled with his odd aversion to saying anything negative about the leader of a hostile foreign power, Putin, there is lots and lots of smoke here and we all know where there’s smoke there’s fire.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/29/2019 - 09:14 am.

      I think you underestimate the power of the “fake news” idea, and the energy that Trump supporters put into deflection. The One Born of Heaven is not as rich as he claims to be? Fake news, and Eric Holder was cited for contempt! He’s in bed, financially, with Russian oligarchs? Fake news, and what about those pallets of cash? He’s using the presidency to promote his personal brand? Fake news, and don’t forget the Clinton Foundation!

  10. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 08/29/2019 - 09:10 am.

    Would be interesting to understand if the on-going supporters look at “T” and think they are getting personally tutored in “The art of the deal” , they change their life styles, values, etc. to match that of “T” thinking that by emulating accordingly that is how they will become uber wealthy and powerful.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/31/2019 - 08:58 am.

    I think it’s actually likely that the polls are over-estimating Trump support. Pollsters are still relying on phone interviews and that skews towards land-lines and those who answer calls from unknown numbers and then stay on the line for a survey. We know that this self selects for older voters and misses the demographic groups that tend to be dissatisfied with Trump. There is no algorithm or statistical method that solves this sampling problem, and the samples sizes haven’t changed. 2020 could end up being an historic blow-out for Trump.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/03/2019 - 05:35 pm.

      I would hope for “a” historic blow out of Don Trump. Reason being, we use “an” for words that start with vowel sounds, to make the language flow more smoothly, and “an” before a consonant sound is disruptive. Like. the guy in the White House now.

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 09/03/2019 - 09:13 pm.

      There probably is a bias there for older and therefore more likely to be Trump voters actually taking the polling calls.

      On the other hand, older people, and I think especially ‘T’ people unfortunately are probably very dedicated to voting, so maybe that polling bias is compensated for by that.

      My hope is that a lot of the people who were not fans of ‘T’ in 2016, but who couldn’t be bothered to vote, or hated Hillary too much to vote, or just assumed she was going to win, have had 3 years now of “non-voter remorse” and will stop F’ing around next time, and vote in 2020!

      I’d love to see a blowout, and afterwards, to not see his orange face every morning when I pull up the news websites would be a true joy.

      It would be REALLY nice if younger people would start voting in larger numbers, my daughter voted for the first time in 2016 at age 28, so maybe there’s reason for optimism, since she’s about as uninterested in politics as you can get. (or maybe not – she might just have made the trip to make the parents happy!).

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