There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about Trump’s approval ratings and how they’re paradoxically going up, even as he commits one outrage after another. What’s the real story?
1. On where Trump’s current approval rating, note that today Gallup released a new week of polling and he is back down to 41 percent, after the 45 percent reading from Gallup the week before that got quite a bit of notice.
2. In the 538 average, he is now a little over 42 percent; since close to the beginning of this year he’s been in a pretty tight range between 40 and 42 percent. This range, while low, is several points higher than he was running late last year.
3. Compared to other presidents, his approval rating at this point in his term, while running about 20 points below the historical average for all Presidents, is very close to Jimmy Carter’s, a little below Ford’s and 3-7 points below Reagan, Obama and Clinton (he is way below everybody else). So true that he is not at unprecedentedly low levels but also true that he is still dead last on net approval (approval-disapproval), as he has been throughout his Presidency.
4. So how to think about this? It’s bad but to many seems not as bad as it should be, given all that things Trump has done and said since he’s been in office. But given the state of the economy and other “fundamental” factors, a reasonable case can be made that he is drastically underperforming where he should be. I believe this to be true. Going by economic performance alone, historical patterns suggest that his approval rating should be somewhere in the 50’s rather than in the low 40’s..
5. It still seems to be the case that the latest outrageous behaviors by Trump, even if they aren’t pushing his ratings up, don’t seem to be pushing his approval ratings down either and, as noted, their current range is a few points higher than their range at the end of last year. Why is this? One possibility is that keeping the political spotlight on Trump as a singular individual and leader–however reprehensible many of his statements may be–diverts attention from various unpopular policies he and his party are intimately associated with. This helps solidify his base and reduce attrition among more persuadable voters, thereby keeping his ratings in their current low but stable range.
I think that’s the context you need to think about the latest ups and downs in Trump’s approval rating.