One of the most remarkable features of President Donald Trump’s presidency has been the consistency of his approval ratings. It seemed that regardless of whatever he said or did, his approval would hover roughly around 40 percent, perhaps ticking up or down a few points depending on the news cycle.
But it appears that in the final two weeks of his presidency, Trump has finally fallen through that floor.
According to the Pew Research Center, Trump is leaving office with the lowest approval rating he’s had during his time in the White House, with just 29 percent of the public approving of his job performance. Other pollsters are finding similar drops, indicating that Trump’s role in inciting a violent mob that stormed the US Capitol on January 6, and his subsequent impeachment on January 13, marks a low of his presidency in the eyes of the public.
What remains to be seen is if, or when, Trump’s image improves as he plans what could potentially be a very public post-presidency.
According to Gallup, Trump’s job rating “remained more stable than those of his predecessors; it never surpassed 45 percent or dipped below 36 percent.” But at 29 percent, he’s now hit 7 percentage points lower than that previous low.
The Pew poll, which was conducted between January 8 and 12 among 5,360 adults, shows a significant segment of that is attributable to ebbing Republican support: while Trump had 77 percent approval among self-identified Republicans in August, he now has 60 percent approval with that group.
Other polls have similar findings. A CNN poll conducted by SSRS, taken between January 9 and 14 with a sample of 1,003 US adults, also found Trump to have the lowest approval rating of his presidency compared to previous CNN polls, with 34 percent of respondents approving of how Trump is handling his presidency. “Among his own partisans, Trump’s approval rating has dropped 14 points since October,” CNN’s analysis says.
There are questions of response bias — political scientists have found that politicians’ supporters are more likely to shun participation in polls when things are going poorly for their favored politician. That being said, multiple polls have documented a clear and strikingly large drop that hasn’t been seen at previous low points in Trump’s presidency.
Trump’s approval rating puts him at about half the level of approval of his predecessor, Barack Obama, during his final days in office.
According to CNN’s Manu Raju, Trump ranks below a great number of previous presidents (though not all) in approval ratings before leaving office.
Final Presidential Approval Ratings
Before Leaving Office
Clinton, 2001 66%
Reagan, 1988 63%
Obama, 2017 60%
Eisenhower, 1960 59%
Bush, 1993 56%
Ford, 1976 53%
Johnson, 1969 49%
Carter, 1980 34%
Trump, now 34%
Truman, 1952 32%
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 17, 2021
FiveThirtyEight’s net approval poll tracker for Trump has seen the biggest drop ever recorded in recent days. They identify only two other moments where the drops were so precipitate: when Republicans began their efforts to repeal Obamacare, and when Trump, shortly after taking office, issued executive orders to initiate what came to be known as his Muslim ban and build a wall along the US-Mexican border.
What may be most striking about Trump’s low ratings as he prepares to leave Washington is that historically, presidents experience a bump in approval ratings in their final days, according to FiveThirtyEight. Even George W. Bush saw his (deeply underwater) net approval rise 13 points between the 2008 election and Obama’s inauguration after an unpopular second term, and amid a financial crisis.
For a ratings-obsessed president who routinely exaggerated his approval numbers, Trump’s unambiguous unpopularity as he steps down would seem to be a failure even in his own terms.
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