Last Monday, I wrote about how bad Donald Trump's poll numbers have been, pointing out that he got absolutely no honeymoon from the public. I never thought I'd be writing about Trump's poll numbers again so quickly, but then everything about the Trump presidency seems to operate at warp speed, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. Today, Donald Trump hit a milestone in job approval polling -- he is now at the lowest point Barack Obama ever had, in eight full years. Trump's average daily job approval at RealClearPolitics.com is now a dismal 39.8 percent. His disapproval rating stands at 53.3 percent. And he's not even through his first 100 days.
Donald Trump's poll numbers are now worse than Obama saw during his entire first term, in fact. Trump has set new lows in less than three months, to put this another way. Obama's lowest daily approval average during his first term came on October 9, 2011, when he hit 42.0 percent. Obama's highest disapproval rate came a few weeks earlier, on August 30, when 53.2 percent of the public disapproved of the job he was doing. That was over two and a half years into his first term. Trump has topped both numbers, on only his 75th day in office. Trump's approval rate is now 2.2 points lower than Obama saw in his first four years, and his disapproval rate is 0.1 percent above what Obama saw in his first term. That's pretty stunning.
Even comparing Obama's second term to Trump is pretty stunning, too. Obama dropped below 40 percent for only one day of his entire eight years in office, on the second of December, 2013. On that day, Obama registered the same 39.8 percent approval that Trump now has. Obama was having a bad couple of months, immediately following both the government shutdown and the disastrous rollout of the Obamacare exchange website. In other words, there were good reasons why this was the weakest point of his entire presidency. The shutdown and its outcome pleased no one, and the website disaster just looked like sheer incompetence.
Although Trump has now matched Obama's worst approval rating ever, he still has one more milestone to hit when measured against his predecessor. Obama's highest disapproval rating came on the same day as his worst approval rating, when it hit 55.9 percent. Trump's still 2.6 points below this, so he's got one more Obama milestone left to hit.
These are all negative achievements, of course. Trump is beating Obama, but only in a race to the bottom. Obama's positive marks are so far beyond Trump's reach he'll likely never match them. Obama entered into office with a 19.3 percent disapproval rating. Fewer than one in five Americans disapproved of Obama at the start. His approval rating during his first honeymoon period was sky-high -- in the middle of his first February in office, Obama hit 65.5 percent approval.
Even after a much more subdued second term, Obama left office with impressive ratings from the public. In his final days in office, Obama hit 57.4 percent approval with only 39.3 percent disapproval.
Of course, Trump's presidency is still in its earliest days. Anything could happen in the future. It's not inconceivable that Trump recovers his standing with the public, at least somewhat. But so far, the highest his job approval has ever hit is 46.0 percent. That's four points less than a majority. And that's his high point. Starting from such a low level means it'll be a lot harder for Trump to win over enough support to ever even get to half of all Americans.
Trump's problem now is that he's starting to lose the support of his base. That's dangerous territory for any politician. Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump, and the majority of independents do too. Up until this point, Trump has managed to chart high support from Republicans, however (above 80 percent support). But that may now be slipping, too. In the most recent Marist poll, for the first time Trump's GOP support has slipped into the 70s. This may be the biggest reason for his downturn in general, but it's really too soon to tell yet. That Marist poll is pretty grim all around for Trump, because it shows how incredibly unpopular pretty much all of his agenda truly is with the public at large. Read through all the breakdown numbers to fully see this:
- Trump is changing America for the worse -- 42 percent; for better -- 36 percent.
- Embarrassed by Trump's actions -- 60 percent; proud of his actions -- 30 percent.
- Trump has weakened America on the world stage -- 56 percent; strengthened America -- 35 percent.
- Oppose Trump's executive travel ban order -- 52 percent; support -- 43 percent.
- Support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants -- 83 percent; oppose -- 15 percent.
- Let the Affordable Care Act stand as is or expand it -- 64 percent; shrink it or repeal it entirely -- 33 percent.
- Find Trump's Twitter use reckless and distracting -- 70 percent; find it an effective and informative tool -- 19 percent.
Those are some pretty dismal numbers for Trump and his agenda. The only issue that even has 40 percent approval is Trump's travel ban -- all the others are in the 30s or worse. And his support among Republicans seems to be slipping across the board.
Trump does probably have a bump in the polls coming with his own base, at least. It's looking like the Senate will confirm his Supreme Court nominee this week, which will score Trump somewhat of a political trifecta. First, it'll be a big win for Trump over Democrats. Up until now, Trump has largely been defeated by either judges (his travel ban's failure) or his own fellow Republicans (the Ryancare trainwreck). But this one will be a straight-up partisan fight, and Trump's going to win in the end. So that should hearten his base a bit. Secondly, conservatives will love seeing Neil Gorsuch confirmed. Trump's always been fairly weak with traditional conservatives (who have never quite trusted Trump, for good reason), so this should shore up some goodwill for Trump among the conservative base. And thirdly, it'll be a win for Trump and proof that the federal government isn't totally broken. Most voters don't really care much about filibusters and the rules of the Senate, but they will see "Trump actually getting something done in Congress," which (to date) hasn't happened at all, really. So Trump might win a few independents back solely because he'll be seen as getting something done, for better or for worse.
Trump's longer-term problem, however, is that there isn't much else on the political horizon to look forward to. There aren't any other easy wins ahead, in other words. After the Gorsuch confirmation, Congress will scarper off to one of their frequent multi-week breaks from doing their job, which will likely involve at least a few rowdy town hall meetings. When they return to D.C., they'll be under the gun to pass some sort of continuing resolution to keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year. This fight is almost guaranteed to be ugly, and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will likely require some Democratic votes to get something passed. What this means is that at least some Republican factions are going to be very upset with the result at the end of the day. There may even be more open warfare between Trump and the Tea Partiers in Congress. This is not, to state the obvious, a recipe for public confidence in the president.
Beyond the end of this month, Trump has three big fights ahead of him. Tax reform is going to be huge (if it even happens), and today the White House is even floating the ideas of instituting a carbon tax and a value-added tax (VAT), which would essentially be a national sales tax on consumers. Neither idea is much loved among conservatives, especially those who are fervently anti-tax (against taxes of any type). Ryan is pushing a border tax, which would raise prices for consumers on all imports, but he's been struggling to get support for the idea with his fellow Republicans, from all reports. If the anti-tax faction gets their way, however, then no new taxes will pass, which will pull the rug out from the grand design of giving the wealthiest Americans another gigantic tax cut. Doing so without additional revenues is guaranteed to explode the budget and the deficit (because "trickle-down economics" just don't work the way Republicans fervently wish -- tax cuts never "pay for themselves").
Trump also has a big battle with Republicans on his infrastructure ideas. A trillion dollars of new spending isn't the sort of thing that normally excites conservatives, to put it mildly. And Trump still seems eager to take another crack at repealing and replacing Obamacare, which will be yet another Republican-on-Republican fracas.
So while Trump may see his approval ratings get slightly better at the end of this week when the Senate confirms Neil Gorsuch, there's not a whole lot for Trump to look forward to afterwards. Trump could get one other unrelated bump, when Mosul, Iraq is retaken from the Islamic State -- which should happen in the next few months, at the latest. This battle actually began last fall, and Trump hasn't really changed Obama's military strategy in Iraq much at all, but he'll still be the one in the Oval Office when the city's retaken, so he'll certainly try to claim as much credit as he can. But the American public is still pretty war-weary (especially in Iraq), so this may also be of limited benefit to Trump's approval ratings.
Donald Trump has hit the lowest point Obama ever hit in job approval in record time. That much is now a fact. He still hasn't come anywhere close to George W. Bush's worst approval rating (which fell to the mid-20s towards the end), though, which I guess is something. But sub-40 job approval is a very dangerous place for any president to find himself in. When fewer than four out of every ten Americans support you, your power contracts quickly in the halls of Congress. Republican factions already don't fear Trump at all (as evidenced by the back-and-forth over Ryancare), and if his ratings continue to fall more and more Republicans in Congress will become emboldened to chart a different direction than Trump, for their own political survival. We still probably haven't seen where Trump's floor will be, since his poll numbers have been falling so quickly and so early on. Which probably means I'll be revisiting the "How low can Trump go?" question once again a lot sooner than I would have expected. Today, Trump equaled Obama's lowest point. But his own lowest point is likely to be a lot lower than 39.8 percent, that much now seems almost certain.
[Program Note: Since I had these figures lying around from the "Obama Poll Watch" column series, I thought it'd be worthwhile to post Obama's full record today. So here are Obama's daily average approval and disapproval records for his first and second terms.]
Obama's First Term Statistical Records
Highest Daily Approval -- 2/15/09 -- 65.5%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 10/9/11 -- 42.0%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 8/30/11 -- 53.2%
Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 1/29/09 -- 19.3%
Obama's Second Term Statistical Records
Highest Daily Approval -- 1/17/17 -- 57.4%
Lowest Daily Approval -- 12/2/13 -- 39.8%
Highest Daily Disapproval -- 12/2/13 -- 55.9%
Lowest Daily Disapproval -- 1/18/17 -- 39.3%
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant