The Rise And Fall Of Trump's Polling

[ Posted Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017 – 17:59 PDT ]

It's been two months since we last took a look at it, so it seemed like a good time to check in on President Donald Trump's job approval ratings. During this time period, Trump went down, then up, then back down again, finishing up within one point of where he started.

Much has happened in the political world since the beginning of August, from nuclear brinksmanship with North Korea to squabbling over football players "taking a knee" to the abject failure of the third attempt by the Republicans in Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. This period started out with Trump fanning racial division after the events in Charlottesville, saw the exodus of more than one of his senior advisors (Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Tom Price, and pretty much all of his corporate advisory boards), and the pardon of Joe Arpaio. Trump also announced a "new" strategy in Afghanistan and cut a deal on the budget and debt ceiling with "Chuck and Nancy" (he also flirted with cutting another deal with them on the "Dreamers," but it remains to be seen whether he'll actually follow through on this or not). Finally, Trump rolled out a new tax plan, which still didn't specify any of the hard choices that will need to be made in Congress. But in my opinion (based only on gut feeling, I fully admit) what has driven the movement in the polls has been the devastation of this year's hurricane season.

Trump started August at a new lowpoint for him, 38.4 percent approval and 56.9 percent disapproval. But his trendline continued even further down in the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence, and would reach a new new low of 37.4 on August 13. Over the next week Trump recovered somewhat, and his numbers plateaued in the 38.0-to-39.0 percent range. [As always, all data are from the Real Clear Politics rolling average of Trump's presidential poll numbers].

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas on August 26, when Trump was at 38.6 percent job approval. Trump's response was good enough for him to avoid major criticism, and his poll numbers inched upwards again, hitting 39.9 percent after the first week in September. On September 10, Hurricane Irma hit Florida. By September 23, Trump's job approval rating was higher than it had been since the tenth of May, standing at 41.7 percent. For over a month, Trump had sustained a rise in his polling of over three points, a feat he's only managed to accomplish once previously. His job disapproval had fallen even further, down five whole points from 57.4 percent on August 13, to 52.4 percent on September 23.

Then came the third hurricane, and Trump's belated response to it. Hurricane Maria actually hit Puerto Rico on September 20, but it would be three or four days before the American media even picked up on the scale of the disaster there. On September 24, Trump's numbers started to head downward. By the first of October (two days ago), Trump was back down to 39.1 percent approval. That's a fall of over two-and-a-half points inside of a week, which is a pretty steep drop. Yesterday, Trump stood at 39.2 percent approval and 55.4 percent disapproval.

The next two days will likely be a test of which direction Trump's poll numbers head next. I am writing this before watching any news of Trump's trip to Puerto Rico, so I have no idea how that went. Tomorrow, Trump travels to Las Vegas to address the worst mass shooting in modern American history. Both of these are opportunities for him to improve his standing with the public.

Presidential "I feel your pain" moments almost always are accompanied by a slight bump in the polls. Sometimes this is very temporary, and the public goes right back to old attitudes after a brief pause of giving the benefit of the doubt, in time of crisis. Other times, presidents can sustain the goodwill they generate from such visits. Of course, those are normal rules of thumb for normal times. How Trump will act or how the public will react is anyone's guess, really.

Can Trump erase some of the bad taste he's left in people's mouths over the past week of insulting Puerto Rico's victims? Will Maria ultimately be Trump's Katrina, or will he manage to turn the story around? Will he show empathy in Las Vegas? We already know he's probably not going to say anything about guns, but even just connecting on a human level usually always does a president's ratings some good, in the wake of such a tragedy.

Right now, the trend for Trump is a steep decline in job approval. But that was most likely a direct result of him picking a political fight with the San Juan mayor. Perhaps that will quickly be forgotten, with the blanket news coverage out of Las Vegas. At this point, things are so volatile for Trump that anything is possible. So far, he's held onto at least a 38 percent base, but has failed to win much of anyone else over for a sustained period. So perhaps whatever happens in the next few weeks, Trump's polling will settle back into his normal range of 38-40 percent job approval. That would seem to be the most likely outcome.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “The Rise And Fall Of Trump's Polling”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    Can Trump erase some of the bad taste he's left in people's mouths over the past week of insulting Puerto Rico's victims? Will Maria ultimately be Trump's Katrina, or will he manage to turn the story around?

    Trump suggested that Maria wasn't a "real disaster" like Katrina and prattled on and on about himself and his ratings. He tossed paper towels to the victims like it was a game and passed out flashlights while claiming they were no longer needed.

    Will he show empathy in Las Vegas?

    How would he do that when he's got no empathy for anyone not named Trump?

  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Trump poll numbers are like the man: both tend to revert to the mean.

  3. [3] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Took a day off from commenting so I just saw your replies on FTP and just posted a response.

  4. [4] 
    John M wrote:

    Apparently Secretary of State Tillerson, after being undercut so many times now by his boss, has called Trump a F***ing moron in front of multiple witnesses and had to be dissuaded by Pence from resigning. He gave a news conference today praising Trump but without actually coming right out and denying anything. Could he be the next one out in Trump's chaotic administration?

  5. [5] 
    Kick wrote:

    John M

    Could he be the next one out in Trump's chaotic administration?

    Signs point to yes ~ Magic 8-Ball

  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    John M - One can scarcely imagine how hard it must be for a person of Tillerson's ability and experience to work for somebody like Trump. I can scarcely believe that he can deal with something like that.

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    TheStig [2] -

    OK, now that was really funny!


    As for everyone else, I have to admit I was kind of shocked that Tillerson wasn't fired late Friday afternoon... the famous "take out the trash day" (as West Wing put it). Maybe next Friday? We'll see...


  8. [8] 
    TheStig wrote:


    There is a deeper point in my snarky comment 2. The statistical term "regression" derives from the fact that local ups and downs in a series of observations tend to even out as more data is collected. RCP doesn't make much of an attempt to filter the noise from the signal. Reasonable people can argue whether that is a vice or a virtue, but a prudent observer should be very wary of overparsing RCP rolling (rollicking?) averages on even monthly intervals.

    HuffPollster and Fivethityeight (and others) do a better job of filtering the noise. Both Huff and Five show Trump slowly losing ground over time, and RCP basically shows the same thing over 9 months...give or take any given day, any given poll. The virtue of RCP is simplicity, the vice is low resolution.

  9. [9] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    TheStig -

    I actually like the noise. I track it so closely I can even predict it. "RCP's about to cut off these four polls from their rolling daily average, so the net result will be a tiny spike up/down..."

    I started with RCP because at the time they were the de facto standard on the web, and also because they lean Republican. They play with their data so that things look better for GOP and worse for Dems all the time. Like picking which breakout number to use (all adults/reg. voters/likely voters) depending on which number is better for their guys.

    But I figured even with this low-level manipulation, the broader trends would still show through. Largely, that is what happens at RCP.

    Pollster is much better at smoothing, though, which is why I do check them out too...


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