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Trump's Approval Rating Unusually Low, Unusually Early

Trump's Approval Rating Unusually Low, Unusually Early

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Trump's 35% and 36% ratings are lowest for new presidents
  • Three presidents re-elected after sub-40% approval in first term
  • Both presidents with sub-30% ratings in first term were not re-elected

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the first president in Gallup's polling history to start his term with a job approval rating below the majority level, Donald Trump has already received the all-time lowest approval ratings of any president in his first year. Trump's recent 36% approval rating, recorded after Republicans in Congress failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, fell just below Bill Clinton's all-time low of 37% in June 1993. In interviewing conducted Sunday through Tuesday, Trump has dipped further to 35%.


Lowest Job Approval Ratings for Presidents in Their First Year
Based on U.S. elected presidents since Nixon
  First-year low Month/Year
Donald Trump^ 35 March 2017
Bill Clinton 37 June 1993
Barack Obama 49 November 2009
Ronald Reagan 49 November 1981
Jimmy Carter 51 October 1977
George H.W. Bush 51 January 1989
George W. Bush 51 September 2001
Richard Nixon 56 October 1969
^Trump's first-year low is preliminary, as of March 29, 2017


Trump arrived at this point after a sharp slide from a 41% approval rating last week, and from 45% recorded earlier this month after his well-received State of the Union address. He previously descended into the 30s with a 38% rating in mid-February and a 37% in mid-March, but bounced back each time.

Graph 1

Three First-Term Recoveries for Trump to Model

All seven elected presidents since Richard Nixon saw their job approval rating descend below 40% at some point during their tenure. Of these, four had ratings below Trump's 35%, including Nixon (24%), Jimmy Carter (28%), George H.W. Bush (29%) and George W. Bush (25%). Ronald Reagan's lowest (35%) matches Trump's, while Clinton (37%) and Barack Obama (38%) had low points slightly above where Trump is now.

Three presidents -- Reagan, Clinton and Obama -- all hit their presidential low points in their first term, yet recovered in time to win re-election. Of the three, only Obama returned to his low point in his second term; however, he enjoyed a second recovery period and finished his presidency with a 59% job approval rating in Gallup's final reading in January.


Two Disastrous First-Term Declines to Avoid Repeating

The paths of two other presidents -- Carter and George H.W. Bush -- should be more troubling to Trump, as neither won a second term once his approval rating fell into the 20s during the first.

Carter hit his lowest point in the third year of his presidency. Following a brief rebound after the Iran hostage crisis in late 1979, his approval retreated into the 30s ahead of the 1980 election. George H.W. Bush reached his lowest point in his fourth year, just months before the 1992 election, although he did see a bounce to 56% approval after the election.


Two Second-Term Fails

Both Nixon and George W. Bush hit their low points -- significantly lower than Trump's current level -- well into their second term after enjoying broad popularity in their first. Bush limped out of the White House with a 34% job rating, while Nixon never finished his second term, choosing to resign rather than face likely impeachment and removal over the Watergate scandal.


Bottom Line

Already a trendsetter by earning the lowest initial job approval rating of any president and falling below 40% approval in record time, Trump's recent 35% and 36% approval ratings are the lowest of any president in his first year.

Three two-term presidents -- Reagan, Clinton and Obama -- dropped below 40% approval in their first term. However, it is unusual for a president to cross that threshold in his first year (Clinton is the only other example), much less in his first month, as Trump did.

One possibility for Trump, following Clinton's path, is that after bottoming out somewhere in the 30s early on, he learns from the school of hard knocks and improves his performance enough to rebuild public support. His challenge will be expanding beyond his 46% high point -- if he does, he could be in a good position for re-election. The alternative is that he sinks into the 20s and follows the path worn by Carter and George H.W. Bush: straight to the first-term exit door.

What ensues will depend not only on Trump's management of his administration and relations with Congress, but also on his relationship with the media and, possibly most importantly, real-world economic and national security conditions that Trump can only partly control.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Explore President Trump's approval ratings in depth and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.

Survey Methods

Results for Trump's latest approval rating are based on telephone interviews conducted March 26-28, 2017, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,519 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how Gallup Daily tracking works.

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