The reality behind Trump's approval ratings

The reality behind Trump's approval ratings
Posted at 9:46 AM, Dec 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-29 10:46:19-05

President Donald Trump claimed Friday that his approval ratings at this point in his presidency rival those of Barack Obama, citing a report from "Fox & Friends."

"While the Fake News loves to talk about my so-called low approval rating, @foxandfriends just showed that my rating on Dec. 28, 2017, was approximately the same as President Obama on Dec. 28, 2009, which was 47%...and this despite massive negative Trump coverage & Russia hoax!" he tweeted.

But the truth, across almost every reputable poll, is that Trump's approval ratings have lagged behind those of nearly all of his predecessors, including Obama, since day one of his presidency.

The cleanest comparison between the approval ratings of the two presidents is Gallup's daily tracking polls, which are released as both three-day rolling averages and weekly averages. The three-day averages released on December 28, 2009 -- the day Trump cited in his tweet -- showed 51% approval for Obama with 43% disapproval. On December 28 of this year, Gallup released a three-day average showing 38% approval for Trump with 56% disapproval.

The weekly numbers tell a similar story: For the week ending December 27, 2009, 51% approved of Obama, and for the week ending December 24, 2017, 37% approved of Trump.

That gap is mirrored in other polls with long-term trends and similar methodologies now as they had in 2009. In CNN's polling among all adults, 35% approved of Trump in mid-December 2017, while Obama held a 54% approval rating in December 2009. CBS News finds a 14-point gap between Obama's approval then (50%) and Trump's approval now (36%). NBC News and The Wall Street Journal show a smaller 6-point gap on approval, but Trump's disapproval number (56%) tops Obama's by 10 points (46%). And the Quinnipiac University poll finds a 9-point gap between Trump's approval (37%) and Obama's positive rating (46%) among registered voters.

Trump's tweeted claim rests on the findings of a daily tracking poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports. Those findings come from a poll conducted using a mix of online interviews and those conducted via calls to landline telephones by a recorded voice interviewer rather than a live person. They claim to interview likely voters, without specifying in what election those people are likely to cast ballots, nor how they are identified. Polls conducted this way do not meet CNN's standards for reporting, because they can under-represent certain segments of the population.

Rasmussen's polling received a C+ rating in FiveThirtyEight's most recent pollster rankings, and it has been found to lean toward the GOP when compared with other pollsters, which means it typically understated support for Obama and has a tendency to overstate support for Trump when compared with other polls.

Looking back farther in time, Trump's approval ratings in his first year have consistently lagged behind other presidents in their first years in office. Trump's current rating in CNN polling of 35% stands at least 14 points behind every other president dating back to Dwight Eisenhower. Bill Clinton's numbers briefly matched Trump's in late spring 1993 but rebounded in midsummer, leaving Trump alone at the bottom of the approval rating barrel.