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At 46%, Trump's Pre-Debate Job Approval Highest Since May

At 46%, Trump's Pre-Debate Job Approval Highest Since May

Story Highlights

  • Trump's job approval is up from 42% earlier in September
  • Except for approval on economy, issue approvals are below 50%
  • 56% expect Trump will win the election; 40% think Biden will

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In Gallup polling conducted over the two weeks leading up to the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump's job approval rating is 46%, its highest point since May. Although still short of the majority approval that incumbent presidents typically need in order to be confident of reelection, more Americans say they expect he, rather than Joe Biden, will win the election.

Trump's Pre-Debate Approval Rating Remains Below His Personal Best

Trump started the year with the highest approval rating of his presidency (49%) amid his acquittal on impeachment charges, but it subsequently descended to the 38% to 42% range during the summer as the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic downturn, and racial injustice issues afflicted the nation.

Although the increase of four percentage points in Trump's latest rating is not statistically significant, the poll's internals suggest a rise in his support the second half of the Sept. 14-28 field period coincident with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death and lying in state, as well as Trump's announcing that he would quickly make a nomination to the Supreme Court. This suggests that some viewed his handling of the situation positively.

Line graph. President Donald Trump's job approval rating since January 2019. Currently, 46% of Americans approve, marking a four-point increase from earlier in September.

While the president's approval rating has edged up, he remains underwater, with 52% of Americans disapproving of his job performance. The current 87-point gap between Republicans' (94%) and Democrats' (7%) approval of Trump is still among the largest in Gallup's history. Independents' approval of Trump, now 39%, remains significantly below the 46% to 47% ratings for this group from April and May.

Besides Economy, Trump's Approval Ratings on Issues Are Below 50%

In addition to Trump's overall job approval, Gallup asked Americans whether they approve of his handling of six issues. The economy is the only one with majority-level approval (54%), marking an improvement from 47% and 48% readings in early June and mid-August.

His ratings on the other five issues are at or above where they were in mid-August but remain below 50%. These include crime (48%), foreign affairs (46%), relations with China (46%), response to the coronavirus (44%) and race relations (38%).

President Donald Trump's Approval Ratings for Handling Issues
Approve Disapprove
% %
The economy 54 45
Crime* 48 51
Foreign affairs 46 53
Relations with China* 46 52
The response to the coronavirus 44 56
Race relations* 38 60
*Asked of half sample
GALLUP, Sept. 14-28, 2020

Majority of Americans Predict Trump Will Win Reelection

Regardless of whom they personally support, 56% of Americans expect Trump to prevail over Biden in the November election, while 40% think Biden will win. Although majorities of partisans think their party's candidate will win, Republicans are more likely to believe Trump will win (90%) than Democrats are to think Biden will (73%). Fifty-six percent of independents predict that Trump will win.

Americans' Predictions of 2020 Election Outcome, by Party Identification
Regardless of whom you support, and trying to be as objective as possible, who do you think will win the election in November?
All Americans Republicans Independents Democrats
% % % %
Donald Trump 56 90 56 24
Joe Biden 40 9 39 73
Gallup, Sept. 14-28, 2020

Looking back, Gallup has asked Americans for their predictions in the late summer or fall of every presidential election year from 1996 through 2012, and an ABC News/Washington Post poll included a comparable question in 2016. In each of these polls, Americans accurately predicted the winner of the popular vote, though not the winner of the Electoral College. That is, in 2000 and 2016, the public predicted Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, respectively, would win the election. Although both of these Democratic candidates won the popular vote, George W. Bush and Trump, respectively, won the most electoral votes and ultimately became president.

The prediction of a Trump victory is not consistent with the average of recent national presidential vote-preference polls, which show Biden with a significant lead, but it is consistent with Americans' expectation of a victory for the incumbent president in every race in which one has been running. The two most recent elections in which an incumbent lost -- 1980 and 1992 -- occurred before Gallup began asking Americans to handicap the presidential election race.

Americans' Predictions of Presidential Election Winners
Regardless of whom you support, and trying to be as objective as possible, who do you think will win the election in November?
Think Democrat
will win
Think Republican
will win
% %
September 2020 40 56
October 2016* 58 31 Republican
October 2012 54 34 Democrat
October 2008 71 23 Democrat
October 2004 36 56 Republican
September 2000** 52 35 Republican
August 1996 69 24 Democrat
*Source: ABC News/Washington Post poll [Question wording: Regardless of whom you support, who do you expect to win the election for president?]; **Among registered voters

Bottom Line

While Trump's approval rating has improved, it remains below the 50% threshold for an incumbent that has historically been associated with presidents winning a second term. In addition, Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going is near its historical low point, and while economic confidence has recovered from its record drop in the spring, it remains negative. Despite these strong indicators that suggest Trump's reelection is imperiled, more Americans still believed before the debate that he is the favorite to win.

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

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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