How do Trump’s approval ratings stack up?
Ever since he took office, Donald Trump’s job approval rating has struggled to rise above 45 percent. However, how does he rank compared to his predecessors?
According to Gallup Poll rankings, the average presidential poll ratings have fallen steadily with each president since George H. W. Bush. Some of this reflects presidential performance, but it may also point to a growing distaste with the office of the presidency in general.
Declining approval ratings may also reflect increased access to information from around the world, as more and more individuals get their news and base their opinions of the current president on more than just traditional American media. Below is a ranking of the last five presidents based on their approval ratings, with explanations about what factors factors affected how popular or unpopular they were.
1. George H.W. Bush
Average Approval Rating: 60.9 percent
President George H. W. Bush had an average approval rating of 60.9 percent. By definition, that makes him one of the greatest American presidents in the past 30 years, right? Actually, the story is more complicated than that.
An 89 percent peak in George H. W. Bush’s approval came in late February 1991, after Operation Desert Storm was declared a success and Bush announced that he was pulling ground troops out of Iraq. Winning a war does great things for a president’s poll numbers, and Bush’s numbers soared.
After peaking at 89 percent, however, Bush’s presidential poll rating dropped steadily for the remainder of his time in office. It peaked slightly after he signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union, but fell with the controversial confirmation of Clarence Thomas. In January 1992, the unemployment rate rose and his approval numbers fell even lower.
Even as he secured his party’s nomination in August 1992, his president poll numbers plummeted to the lowest point in his presidential career, down to a dismal 29 percent. In the end, with approval ratings hovering at 30 percent, he lost to Clinton by a notable 5 percentage points and 202 electoral votes.
2. Bill Clinton
Average Approval Rating: 55.1 percent
Unlike H.W. Bush, President Bill Clinton held office for two full terms. He also maintained a more consistent presidential poll rating throughout his time in office, with his approval rating moving a maximum of 35 points throughout his presidency.
Clinton’s lowest president poll number was 37 percent, in June of his first year of presidency and a month after the Waco siege. It dipped again in late 1995 and early 1996. When the latest presidential popularity polls indicated his numbers had taken a hit, he delivered a State of the Union address where he cast himself as a moderate opposed to big government.
President Clinton’s president poll numbers remained relatively steady, rising a bit throughout his time in office as he expanded health care coverage and reformed welfare.
Surprisingly, the infamous impeachment attempt helped his numbers jump briefly to around 73 percent approval. His approval rating dipped down to 53 percent in May 1999 during the NATO attack on Serbia, and then rose back up to 66 percent by the time he left office.
3. George W. Bush
Average Approval Rating: 49.4 percent
President George W. Bush took office in January 2001 after a controversial election that saw him and Democratic candidate Al Gore go neck and neck until the Supreme Court ruled in Bush’s favor. Called one of the greatest presidents in American history by some and one of the worst presidents by others, George W. Bush was a controversial figure.
When he took office, he held a 57 percent approval rating that steadily dropped to 51 percent over the next several months. However, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, his president poll numbers skyrocketed to 90 percent. His responses after the attack reassured Americans and arguably helped unify the nation.
Unfortunately, his high approval rating did not last long. Almost immediately after peaking, his presidential poll rating began dropping again. In early 2003, he reached a low of 57 percent approval after he announced new tax cuts that Democrats criticized as irresponsible.
His approval rating peaked again at 71 percent in March 2003 as he declared war against Iraq. It steadily fell again to the mid-50s as the war continued, jumping briefly above 60 percent when he delivered the 2004 State of the Union address before falling back down to just 25 percent toward the end of his time in the oval office.
4. Barack Obama
Average Approval Rating: 47.9 percent
President Obama’s ratings were at 69 percent when he took office in January 2009. It would never be that high again throughout his presidency. His approval rating stayed above 60 percent for his first few months in office as he signed fair wage rulings and caps on executive pay into law.
He even hosted some internet-based “fireside chats” meant to mimic those of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, by late June his approval rating began dipping, falling to 42 percent approval in August after what seemed like a lack of progress on his health care bill.
Obama’s job approval hovered between 50 and 60 percent for several months. After passing Obamacare, approval ratings did not change much. In fact, they reached a low of 38 percent in August 2011 after a helicopter carrying American soldiers was downed in Afghanistan.
He managed to bring his presidential poll rating back up to 58 percent by December 2012 in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In a televised speech where he was overcome by emotion, he promised to enact stronger gun control legislation.
Obama’s approval rating remained in the low 40s throughout 2013 and 2014, but began rising again in 2015 and then throughout the remainder of his presidency. Some of this may have been attributed to the ongoing election campaign between hopefuls such as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and future Donald Trump. He left office at a high of 59 percent approval.
5. Donald Trump
Donald Trump’s job approval has consistently remained much lower than the average president, reflecting a general trend toward presidential disapproval. Trump is a polarizing figure, but many of his supporters consider him one of the greatest American presidents ever, while opponents disapprove strongly of nearly every move he makes.
Donald Trump’s poll numbers were already at a low of 45 percent when he took office. Throughout his presidency, his disapproval rating has remained much higher than his approval. His controversial press secretary, a number of immediate hirings and firings, and an investigation into potential collusion with Russia sullied his early months in office. Donald Trump’s favorability continued to fall, reaching a low of 35 percent in the fall of 2017.
His approval reached a high of 45 percent again in June 2018 when he took a hardline stance against immigration. It reached another high of 46 percent after the Mueller report was released. The report did not indict him for any particular crimes, although it also did not exonerate him.
Trump’s current presidential polls have him at a 41 percent approval rating.