The disapproval ratings matter just as much as the approval ratings

Several national polls in recent weeks show Donald Trump is the least popular new president since the dawn of modern American polling. A new report from Gallup, released yesterday, reinforces the larger trend: the newly inaugurated Republican is the first president in the pollster’s history to enter the White House with an approval rating below 50%.

And Gallup has been doing this for more than seven decades.

Looking closer, we can also examine new presidents’ net approval ratings – approval minus disapproval – and find that Trump trails each of his modern predecessors by more than 30 percentage points.

But what I found especially notable were the disapproval numbers. From Gallup’s report:
President Donald Trump is the first elected president in Gallup’s polling history to receive an initial job approval rating below the majority level. He starts his term in office with 45% of Americans approving of the way he is handling his new job, 45% disapproving and 10% yet to form an opinion. Trump now holds the record for the lowest initial job approval rating as well as the highest initial disapproval rating in Gallup surveys dating back to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
To be sure, Trump’s 45% approval rating in this poll is higher than any other recent survey, so to this extent, the Gallup report isn’t all bad for the new president. But it’s that 45% disapproval that sticks out like a sore thumb.

I put together the above chart to help drive the point home. (Gallup’s report didn’t include Truman’s numbers from 1945, but I included the data by way of a FiveThirtyEight analysis.)

Broadly speaking, as a new president is taking office, there’s a honeymoon period in which those approving of the incoming leader heavily outnumber those who disapprove. The numbers generally don’t add up to 100%, because some of a new president’s detractors have traditionally taken a wait-and-see attitude, describing themselves as unsure.

But with Trump, the honeymoon ended before he took the oath. As a result, nearly half the country already opposes him – and that’s a dynamic without precedent in modern American history.

As we discussed the other day, the consequences of this are real. Trump has a variety of unpopular ideas he intends to pursue, and though he has a far-right Congress to work with, he’ll soon discover that presidents without political capital often struggle to get everything they want: lawmakers who are skeptical of the incoming president’s ideas won’t feel much pressure to go along with an unpopular and scandal-plagued leader.

Donald Trump and Polling

The disapproval ratings matter just as much as the approval ratings