Trump’s stable approval rating

Since mid May Donald Trump’s approval rating has remained fairly stable around 40%. (His disapproval rating has also been fairly flat between 54-56%).


His presidency seems to have been far from stable punctuated by significant events and actions, so why is his approval not changing much?

Analysis at RCP:  Five Theories on Trump’s Stable Approval Rating

So why are these numbers so stable when events are anything but? The world of political data has been busy debating this topic, so rather than simply lay out one view and argue for it, I’m going to describe five different views that have popped up.

Theory 1: The GOP Base and Strong Democrats Are Immovable Objects

The situation is simple: Trump has a high approval rating among the GOP base and low approval ratings among the Democratic base, and unless there are truly exceptional circumstances, neither group will change their mind.

In other words, Trump’s 40 percent approval rating might represent something close to his floor. On Election Day 2016, 37.5 percent of voters viewed candidate Trump favorably, yet he won 46 percent of the vote.

Since then, Trump may have lost some of those general election voters by pushing an unpopular health-care bill (or through some other actions they disapproved of), but this 40 percent approval rating represents party stalwarts sticking with him.

Trump’s brash manner, his habit of repeating falsities, his obsession with tweeting, and his ego were all well known when he became president.  He hasn’t changed apart from his expectation that he be adored and obeyed so there may be no strong reason for his core support to be disappointed.

Theory 2: Nothing “New” Is Happening

This might seem like a strange argument. News junkies remember James Comey’s testimony before Congress, Donald Trump Jr.’s emails, the ups and downs of the Senate’s efforts to repeal Obamacare and the whole host of related breaking news stories over the past few months.

But it appears that this information isn’t moving voter preference much.

If this theory is correct, we should expect Trump’s approval rating to change only if truly new events or information are introduced to the electorate. If the economy suddenly boomed or tanked, if Trump decided to push a popular infrastructure bill instead of a relatively unpopular health care bill, if the situation in North Korea escalated and Trump had to respond to it — basically if the national political conversation changes in a meaningful way — Trump’s support might change.

His approval was also down at 40% in April but rose when he visited the Middle East and Europe, then settled back down after a few weeks. Nothing much of importance for the country happening.

Theory 3: It’s the Domestic Policy, Stupid

It’s also possible that Americans don’t really care about Russia and that Trump’s approval rating is simply a result of the public’s mixed opinion on his domestic record.

The RealClearPolitics average shows that Trump has a 44.7 percent approval rating on economic issues, which isn’t so far off the 46 percent he won in the 2016 popular vote. Yet Americans are currently focused on health care. A July Bloomberg poll showed that 35 percentof respondents (a plurality) said that health care was the most important issue facing the country. And although it’s tough to compare polling results that differ the wording of the question, most polls show that the current GOP bill is unpopular.

This adds up to a dynamic where a decent economy is trying to pull up Trump’s job approval numbers, but his policy focus is pulling those numbers down.

That being said, Theory 3 does paint a very different portrait of voters and their concerns than Theory 2 does. Under this version, news about Russia doesn’t matter too much.

But it seems to matter a lot to Trump, he has helped keep it in the spotlight. He seems easily distracted from the things that matter most, or should matter most.

Theory 4: This Is the New Normal

It’s possible that there isn’t much to explain about Trump’s 40 percent approval rating. Someone could argue that this low, stable rating is almost unavoidable in our current political moment.

To see how this argument would work, imagine that Hillary Clinton had swung enough voters away from Trump in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to become president. She would have come into the office with a low favorability rating and likely wouldn’t have had much of a honeymoon period. She might accomplish some of her goals via executive action, but it would to be hard to get her policy priorities through a Republican-held Congress. Others have examined this possibility more thoroughly, but the point is that in some alternate universe there are other presidents who would also have a low approval rating.

It’s quite likely Hillary Clinton as president would have had consistently poor approval ratings too.

A President Rubio or a President Biden might take some similar actions to Trump or Clinton, respectively, yet have better approval ratings due to sheer likability.

A President Biden or Sanders would have had to battle against Republican majorities in the Senate and in Congress.

Would a President Jeb Bush have been more popular than Trump? We can only wonder.

Theory 5: We Don’t Know What’s Going On

This might sound like a cop-out, but it’s important to acknowledge the possibility that none of our other theories is right.

So it’s possible that we simply don’t yet know why Trump’s approval is low and consistent.

The reality is that it is likely to be some combination of all of these things and there are probably other reasons too.

Leadership approval requires tangible signs of leadership, and Trump hasn’t really done much of that yet.

He has had trouble leading his White House, and he has had difficulty getting the Senate and Congress to follow his lead, or do what he demands.

A solid core remain dedicated and hopeful he will achieve big things, and seem prepared to wait for him to figure out what leading a country actually means and involves.

Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  2nd August 2017

    Sensible stuff. Pity we don’t get any of it in our MSM.

  2. sorethumb

     /  2nd August 2017

    Theory 6 is that whites are being displaced. We have all seen what is happening in Europe – the very fact that Merkel would even contemplating such a flood is powerful. That means wiping out history, annihilation of a people. No more Andy and “Aint Bee”, Oop, Guber etc

  3. David

     /  2nd August 2017

    If the election were held again today he would win again, his support is pretty rock solid and the fallout from not repealing and replacing Obamacare is landing at the Senates door step as they are acknowledging.
    The US is one of the most over regulated economies on earth (see Jamie Dimon) and Trumps shredding of regulations is making a real impact if one looks away from the swamp and look at the actual real figures in the real economy in terms of GDP growth, Jobs, Stock market, reduction in food stamps…in the real world not the bubble he is making unreported progress.

  4. sorethumb

     /  2nd August 2017

    One demographer, who does not want to be named for fear of
    being called racist, says: ‘It’s a matter of pure arithmetic that, if
    nothing else happens, non-Europeans will become a majority and
    whites a minority in the UK. That would probably be the first time
    an indigenous population has voluntarily become a minority in its
    historic homeland’. ….
    Richard Bedford
    Cuckservatives don’t care

  5. sorethumb

     /  2nd August 2017

    What is it that has made Peters and his party so formidable? How has he shape-shifted so rapidly from ageing lion to ravenous bear?
    The deceptively simple answer is that he has listened. And what he has heard has persuaded him that practically all of the confident assumptions of New Zealand’s political class are wrong. Most particularly, that it is wrong in its belief that New Zealand will somehow escape the dramatic political polarisations made manifest by Brexit and Trump in 2016.

    Peters’ key insight is that what the political class construes as a broad consensus on economic and social issues is actually anything but. All that has happened over the course of the past 30 years is that politicians and bureaucrats have thrown a succession of dust-covers over the contents of the national household.

    Certainly, those dust covers, by obscuring the nature of what lies beneath, have conveyed an impression of uniformity. But, underneath them, New Zealand’s antique political furniture – with all its sharp edges – remains unchanged.

    The factor transforming this year’s election campaign is Peters’ and his party’s decision to start pulling those dust covers off. The effect is likely to be the same in this country as it was in the United Kingdom and the United States. All of those atavistic political urges that the “enlightened” classes had convinced themselves were long since dead and buried will find their voices and, if Peters has anything to do with it, their champion.

  6. So just after posting this Trump’s approval ratings move south.

    RCP average today (Thursday NZT): Approve 38.2, Disapprove 56.9, spread -18.7

    Rasmussen often swings, it is currently Approve 38, Disapprove 62, spread 22.


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