The Gallup poll has surveyed the president’s approval rating for 13 presidents from Truman to Trump. Arbitrarily, I’ve decided that a 75% approval means that there is strong support for the president’s recent decisions. Getting above 75% is tough, and it doesn’t last long. I drew a 25% approval line, which shows only three presidents hit this line or were really close: Truman, Nixon and George W. Bush. These were presidents during the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars. But, Nixon’s sharp drop in popularity was tied to Watergate.
So, let’s make this real easy. Over 75%, the country loves their president (more or less) and under 25%, we hate our president. In between these two extremes, a well liked president is able to be above the 50% line, and a not so liked president will be under 50% approval. Many presidents start at high approvals and go into a slump towards the end of the term. This is true for all presidents, except Clinton, who started low and ended high.
Three presidents (Truman, Nixon, and George W. Bush) all went above the 75% “we love you” line and managed to end their term very close to the 25% “we hate you” line. Truman still holds the record of low approval rating, at 22%, with a slight uptick towards the end of his term, which ended in Jan 1953. Eisenhower ended the Korean conflict, and enjoyed a number of pops over the “we love you” line.
All this makes sense, as a president has a certain “honeymoon period” where people are cutting him a lot of slack because he’s new on the job. After some time, and finding out that everything the candidate promised, is not what the president elect can deliver, there should be disappointment in the president.
So, let’s get to Obama’s line, going into a slump about two years into his first term, crossing below 50%, but crossing back above 50% towards the end. Of course, Obama got very high ratings from Democrats and very low ratings from Republicans.
What really distinguishes Trump’s approval rating, is the lack of variation, as compared to all the other presidents. He started at 45% approval rating in his first 9 days in office, which dropped to 35% in August 2017, and the most recent surveys show a 42% rating (as of May 6, 2018).
There has certainly been a lot of misinformation out there, coming particularly from Donald Trump. His approval ratings do not seem to be impacted at all by the Michael Cohen/ Stormy Daniels scandal. One reason, is the Republicans still love him at an 87% approval rating, and Democrats still hate him, with a 9% approval rating. These numbers change only a few percent with each new survey. If the country can be assumed divided 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats, then Trump would have a 48% approval. Independents drag down his approval, they have only 33% approval rating of Trump.
I’m getting pretty tired of hearing about how Trump’s approval ratings have soared with minorities, particularly blacks. There was a 15% approval rating when he was elected president, and it’s 13% now. Basically, since election day, they have hated him. Obama had a 91% approval rating and it stayed pretty much that way throughout his term. Hispanics also hate Trump with a 22% approval rating, that is basically a flat line, never once crossing above 25% line. Obama’s approval rating with Hispanics varied, from 85% to 44%, so he wasn’t consistently above the “we love you” line.
So, all this stuff about Trump being more popular with blacks or Hispanics is nonsense. When approval ratings are very low, there is more statistical variation of the results, particularly when only one small subset is examined. Also, some polls use only people who were registered to vote in the last election. Or they survey people who say they intend to vote in the next election. These factors can make a difference.
Obama never got a “we love you” or “we hate you” approval rating, and I suspect this will never happen with Trump. Obama followed a Democratic agenda, had extremely strong support from Democrats, and very little support from Republicans. Vice versa with Trump, but the outcome is similar, a lack of variation in poll numbers, as compared to prior presidents. Perhaps in the past, we focused more on the president himself and now it is more the party’s policy he represents.
The 538 website compares Trump’s popularity (green line) with the 12 prior presidents.