The president’s job-approval ratings are a much-watched indicator of his party’s prospects in midterm elections (usually the party of a president with sub-50 percent ratings loses pretty badly in midterms), and for first-term presidents, an important sign of political strength heading toward a possible reelection campaign.
Donald Trump has famously never had an average job-approval rating above 50 percent (his peak in the RealClearPolitics polling averages was 46 percent shortly after his inauguration). But it’s more interesting to look at his numbers state by state, where the rubber meets the road from an electoral point of view.
Gallup has just published average state-by-state job-approval data for the president for 2017 as a whole. His national average for the year was 38 percent — the lowest for a first-year president in Gallup’s long polling history — which happens to be exactly where he is today. Perhaps more importantly, he was under 50 percent for the last year in job approval in 38 of the 50 states, including 18 he carried in 2016. Trump was actually under 40 percent in Texas, and no better than 43 percent in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, and North Carolina.
Trump defenders will note that his Gallup favorability ratio (a different, if usually parallel, measurement of presidential candidates before they have a job record to assess) was at a terrible 35/62 just before he was elected president. But Hillary Clinton, who did edge Trump in the popular vote, wasn’t much better, at 40/57. It’s also worth noting that these Gallup numbers are from a sample of “U.S. adults,” a less selective group than registered or likely voters, and thus might understate Trump’s popularity in the actual electorate. But given the very apparent Democratic enthusiasm going into the midterms, the “likelihood to vote” gap may be significantly lower than in the past.
In 2018 there will be no Hillary Clinton on the ballot to make Trump look better by comparison to some voters, and the odds are reasonably good the Donkey Party will nominate a more popular challenger to Trump in 2020. The president really needs to up his game in states that look less positive for him the second time around. A Republican president who can’t top 40 percent job approval in the Lone Star State has a Texas-sized problem.