Trump setting records for low presidential approval

By EMILY SWANSON

AP Polling Editor

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump started as the most unpopular new president in the history of modern polling. After seven months, things have only gotten worse.

Plunging into undesirably uncharted territory, Trump is setting records with his dismally low approval ratings, including the lowest mark ever for a president in his first year. In fact, with four months left in the year, Trump has already spent more time under 40 percent than any other first-year president.

At 34 percent, his current approval rating is worse than former President Barack Obama’s ever was.

Trump’s early descent in the polls defies some longstanding patterns about how Americans view their president. Such plunges are often tied to external forces that the president only partially controls, such as a sluggish economy or an all-consuming international crisis. In Trump’s case, the economy is humming and the foreign crises have been kept to a minimum.

Americans also tend to be optimistic about their new leaders, typically cutting them some slack during their early days in office. Not with Trump.

“Most presidents begin with a honeymoon period and then go down from that, and Trump had no honeymoon,” said Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport.

It’s a jarring juxtaposition for the reality TV star-turned-president who spent months on the campaign trail obsessing about his poll numbers and reading them to massive rally crowds while vowing that he’d win so much as president that Americans would get sick of it. Since he took office, the poll number recitations have stopped.

Trump is now viewed positively by only 37 percent of Americans, according to Gallup’s most recent weekly estimate. (Obama’s lowest weekly average never fell below 40 percent.) It’s even lower — just 34 percent — in Gallup’s shorter, three-day average, which includes more recent interviews but can also involve more random variation.

To be sure, approval ratings can fluctuate — sometimes dramatically. Some presidents have seen their positive reviews dip below 40 percent, only to recover strongly. Bill Clinton, whose rating fell to 37 percent in early June 1993 after policy stumbles, quickly gained ground. Later that same month, he climbed to 46 percent, and ended his eight years enjoying approval from 66 percent of the nation.

Trump has defied the trends before. But if history is a guide, his numbers don’t bode well. Low approval ratings hamper a president’s ability to push an agenda through Congress and make it more likely the president’s party will lose seats in Congress in the midterm elections.

Scott de Marchi, who teaches political science at Duke University, says his research suggests approval ratings tend to affect whether a president can persuade Congress to do his or her bidding. That’s primarily true with complex issues like tax reform, where Americans care about the outcome but may not have strongly formed opinions. In those cases, Americans are more likely to support whatever plan the president proposes if they broadly approve of the president himself.

“The problem with Trump is that on any area like the budget or tax policy or even health care, people need to be led to a position to support,” de Marchi said.