Trump’s popularity spikes, but lags behind past presidents

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE’s honeymoon period with American voters could be shorter than most.

Trump’s favorability rating has hit a new high as he prepares to take office, something that has happened for every president-elect since Gallup first started tracking the metric in 1945.

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But Trump’s net favorability rating is the lowest of any newly elected first-term president, likely because he was a controversial candidate who caused divisions in his own party.

President-elects have in the past stayed on an upward trajectory through Inauguration Day — Jan. 20 for Trump — so he still has time to build on his newfound gains.

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But starting at such a low point presents a challenge for Trump and gives political ammunition to his Democratic detractors, who gleefully note that their presidential nominee, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE, earned 2.5 million more votes than the president-elect despite losing the Electoral College.

“It defines a key challenge for Trump,” said GOP pollster David Winston. “The question is whether he can continue turning it around. Voters right now are showing a willingness to be optimistic, but a lot of this will be based on performance. The outcomes will matter and he needs to produce results.”

A Bloomberg Politics survey released Wednesday found that 50 percent of those polled have a positive view of Trump, compared to 43 percent who view him negatively. That’s up from a 33-63 split in August, and marks the highest favorable rating Trump has registered in any major survey.

It’s also a significant reversal for Trump, who was a historically unpopular presidential candidate. Trump and Clinton were the two most disliked presidential nominees of the modern era.

Until the release of Wednesday’s Bloomberg poll, Trump had not reached the 50 percent favorable mark in any survey in the last two years. 

Most surveys have shown Trump deep underwater. In the RealClearPolitics average, Trump is at 57.5 percent negative and only 38.4 percent positive. One Quinnipiac survey from May found Trump with a minus 49-point favorability rating, at 20 percent positive and 69 percent negative.

While Trump’s latest favorability number is impressive, it’s a far cry from where President Obama or any prior president has been around the time of their inaugurations.

In November 2008, a Gallup survey put Obama’s favorability rating at 68 percent. He claimed a 34-point net advantage over where Trump is right now.

And while President George W. Bush took over after a bitter recount fight with Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreCNN coronavirus town hall to feature science author David Quammen, ‘Empire’ actress Taraji Henson Top Democratic pollster advised Biden campaign to pick Warren as VP Melania Trump to appear on CNN coronavirus town hall Thursday night MORE, his favorability rating was still 23 points in December 2000, at 59-36.

No president-elect has ever had a net favorability rating as low as Trump’s is now.

The closest was Gerald Ford, who posted a 50-28 split in September of 1974, when he took over from President Richard Nixon, a fellow Republican who had just resigned in disgrace.

Ford’s 22 point net favorability rating is 15 points better than Trump’s.

In Gallup’s own latest survey, taken the week after his Nov. 8 victory, Trump remained underwater, at 34 positive and 42 negative.

“He has a challenge no other recent president has had,” said Gallup pollster Frank Newport. “He started from such a low point and the nation is terribly polarized. Unless things change dramatically, he’ll be entering the White House with the nation more divided than past presidents have had to deal with.”

Trump and Vice President-elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence posts, deletes photo of Trump campaign staff without face masks, not social distancing Pence threatens to deploy military if Pennsylvania governor doesn’t quell looting Pence on Floyd: ‘No tolerance for racism’ in US MORE say they have a mandate to govern.

Trump is the first Republican in decades to win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and voters also gave him Republican control of Congress.

Yet the president-elect is likely to enter office with less public goodwill than any of his predecessors.

In the latest Gallup survey, 82 percent of Republicans said they had a favorable view of Trump. That’s low among members of one’s own party, but a strong improvement for Trump, who in the same survey from early November only had 72 percent support from the GOP.

Trump’s favorable rating among independents increased from 32 percent to 39 percent between polls, and among Democrats his support increased from 5 percent to 10 percent.

That’s still an unusually low percentage of support from independents and the opposing party for a president-elect. Thirty-five percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Obama when he entered office. Bush was at 31 percent among Democrats, and President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWill the ‘law and order’ president pardon Roger Stone? Five ways America would take a hard left under Joe Biden The sad spectacle of Trump’s enablers MORE was at 25 percent among Republicans, according to Gallup.

Gallup will go back into the field for another favorability poll this weekend.

Newport said the favorability ratings for an incoming administration typically stay on the upswing between Election Day and Inauguration Day, as the president-elect benefits from positive news coverage befitting a winner.

That honeymoon period is also typically marked by an absence of serious political fights and renewed optimism among voters as new faces enter the government.

Trump is at least headed in the right direction, with voters telling Bloomberg pollsters they have an open mind as to how he will govern. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they’d be fine with Trump recalibrating his positions from the campaign — a sign he might be able to win over some critics if he can find areas of compromise.

“The public seems to be giving him a long leash,” pollster Ann Selzer said of her Bloomberg poll. “Most Americans don’t seem concerned about him changing positions that were the core of his campaign.”

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