I feel like I’ve written a lot of the same words before that I’m about to write now, but over an extended period of time. Week before last, I wondered if at long last we were finally seeing a significant lift in the president’s job-approval ratings of the sort Republicans had been predicting from practically the moment the man took office:
This morning as on every weekday morning I glanced at RealClearPolitics’ polling average for the president’s job-approval ratings, and I nearly dropped my coffee cup: It was at 45.1 percent. Just yesterday I had written that Trump had “yet to hit 45 percent in average approval ratings at either RealClearPolitics or FiveThirtyEight since the earliest days of his presidency.” Scanning RCP’s graph of past averages, I learned that today’s was Trump’s highest average approval rating since February 20, 2017.
So is the president undergoing some sort of serious improvement in his famously stagnant levels of popularity, which could result in him reaching levels consistent with past presidents who were reelected? Are the economy and the triumphant GOP spin on the Mueller report combining to give him an unprecedented lift?
I expressed some skepticism about that possibility, and indicated time would tell. Looks like it has. Trump’s approval-rating average at RCP hasn’t drifted ever upward, but is back down to 43 percent. At FiveThirtyEight, it’s at 41.8 percent. Most startling of all, it’s at 44 percent in the Rasmussen tracking poll, which is the lowest it’s been since February 1. The president has been known to tweet out unusually favorable numbers from this poll. He’s not going to mention this one.
Rasmussen isn’t alone in showing a bit of a Trump slump. There were all sorts of paroxysms of delight among Republicans over a 46 percent showing in a mid-April Gallup tracking poll. Gallup’s especially useful because it can enable comparisons to presidents of the past. And for a brief moment, Trump’s approval rating was above Obama’s at the same point in his presidency. Now Trump is down to 42 percent in the most recent Gallup survey, and Obama at the same juncture was at 51 percent, a level Trump has never reached in 31 months as president. Gallup also shows Trump is doing a lot worse than most recent presidents in May of their third year in office: Dating back to Ike, only Jimmy Carter was in worse shape.
We’ve been here many times before. Gallup calculates Trump’s average approval rating for throughout his presidency at 40 percent. Apart from a dip into the high 30s when he was unsuccessfully trying to kill Obamacare in 2017, the low 40s are where he’s been consistently in the RCP averages; at FiveThirtyEight (which weighs results for polling quality and partisan bias), he’s similarly very near where he’s usually been, with somewhat more frequent and recent dips into the high 30s.
So it’s more and more evident that the man’s popularity simply isn’t very elastic, regardless of economic conditions and/or the daily gyrations of his Twitter feed and the partisan conflict in Washington. And it reinforces the very high likelihood that his reelection is going to depend not on any Trump surge in approval but on dragging his Democratic opponents down into the depths of popular opprobrium right along with him, like an alligator executing a death roll to drown its prey.