Trump has worst first-year presidential approval rating in history but great success with his agenda

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

President Donald Trump is the most unpopular president in modern history with record-low approval ratings his first year in office. (Source: White House Facebook)

As President Donald Trump approaches the end of his first calendar year in office, his approval rating has remained at record lows for a first-year president. Trump’s approval rating has never risen above the 40s and has now settled in the low 30s. According to a new Pew Research Center poll released on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, has Trump’s number is a new low even for his presidency with a just a 32 percent approval rate, while his disapproval rating grows to 63 percent. Still, Trump’s numbers are not much different then Pews’ from October where the president had a 34 percent approval rating, and in February just a few weeks into his presidency when he had a 39 percent approval rating. Despite his unpopularity and low approval ratings, Trump is successfully accomplishing his agenda contradicting the usual correlation between popularity and presidential success in the polls.

The Pew poll was taken between November 29 and December 4 and the numbers come as the first arrests begin in special counsel Robert Mueller Russia election interference probe and Trump’s first national security advisor Michael Flynn plead guilty for lying to the FBI. Still, the low numbers appear as the president moves forward with his agenda. Trump experienced first major legislative victory with the first passage of a tax reform bill. Additionally, The Supreme Court decided in his favor of his third travel ban. Trump tenure is seeing the greatest stock market highs in history, as Jeff Greenfield pointed out, “the economy is roaring, too.”

Greenfield in his article “Has Trump Made Approval Polls Meaningless?” published in Politico on Nov. 29, a week before the Pew poll argues, “He is the most disliked president ever at this point in his term. And he’s more consequential than presidents who were twice as popular.”
Greenfield lists many of Trump’s accomplishments up to publication including having nine nominees places on the on federal appeals courts. Trump also had another legal victory when a federal district court sided with Trump’s choice “to place his budget director as temporary head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

In addition, Greenfield pointed in a referendum on his presidency’s Trump candidate for the special Alabama Senate election Roy Moore, who has been accused of improper relationships with teenage girls is leading the polls. Greenfield credits Trump’s success on “support for Trump’s agenda, combined with his still-strong position within the Republican base, has effectively neutered any meaningful GOP resistance to the president’s wretched excesses.”

The Pew poll was also released a day after Trump acknowledged Jerusalem as the State of Israel’s capital and decided to move the embassy from Tel Aviv a policy decision that will have a major impact on the Middle East. Trump’s policy victories are not without their controversies and divisiveness between the American public, especially along partisan lines. The president also remains controversial with his impulsive Twitter habits that cause him more harm than his political positions. The Pew poll indicates that the negativity towards Trump comes with the Russia probe and personal style rather policy.

Still, no matter the strange theories, unverified videos or insults the president hurls on Twitter, he can accomplish his agenda because of the strong support from his party, both the voters and on Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. As Greenfield notes, Trump accomplishes his agenda “the same way he won the White House in the first place: by capitalizing on a unique political mix of geography, a last-minute intervention, and the right opponent.”

Among those who disapprove of Trump’s performance in the Pew poll, 14 percent actually find something they are pleased with that the president has accomplished. Of those approving of Trump’s performance, 37 percent are disappointed with something of Trump’s actions. The most popular response has been his personal style and particularly his Twitter habit, with 26 percent claiming his personal style and 14 percent saying his Twitter usage.

There is deep partisan division regarding the Russia probe with only 26 of Republicans and Republican leaners believing there was “definitely or probably” “improper contacts” by senior Trump officials. The number increases threefold when it comes to Democrats and Democratic leaners, with 82 percent saying “improper contacts” probably took place and 49 percent saying they definitely occurred. Both parties scribe to different views as to the importance of the probe with only 19 percent of Republicans finding it important versus 71 percent of Democrats.

After initial tax bills passed in both the House and Senate by partisan lines, the two houses are now nearing a final agreement on their tax reform bill. The House passed their version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 on Nov. 16, with a party vote of 227–205, and Senate passed their version with a 51–49 vote, and only one GOP dissension, vocal Trump opponent, Bob Corker (R-TN) opposed the bill and voted with the Democrats.

Pew found that an overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats with 71 and 70 percent respectively find “proposed changes to the federal tax system” are “a very important issue for the country.” The bill unpopular with the middle class from both parties will be Trump’s first major legislative victory after the collapse of the Obamacare repeal efforts. The tax bill, however, still accomplishes one of the GOP’s health care goals repealing the individual mandate requiring all American have health insurance if not they are penalized with a monetary fine.

The worst news Trump is also losing ground with the very base that elected him and makes accomplishing his agenda possible. Trump now only has 76 percent support from Republican voters down from 84 percent in February. Demographically, Trump is seeing his popularity diminish among key groups. Trump is losing ground with Republican voters 50 and older down to 38 percent from 50 percent, and whites 41 percent down from 49 percent. Trump lost the most support from evangelical Protestants 61 percent down from 78 percent.

Still, as Pew indicates “Trump’s job approval rating among members of his own party, while lower today than at the beginning of the year, is in line with those of most of his predecessors.” The main reason behind Trump’s lower numbers is that he has lower approval numbers from the opposing party than his predecessors with an only 7 percent approval from Democrats. No other president in his first year in office had an approval rating in the low 30s.

Trump’s rating is 16 percent lower than the all-time historical low. The previous record holder was Bill Clinton who at the end of 1993 had a 48 percent approval rating. Like his boasts, President Trump has made his mark on the presidency in his first year accomplishing more than his higher-rated predecessors did. Trump does this, because as Greenfield indicates despite being a historically unpopular president” he is “in a position to preside over more consequential changes, at least at this stage in their terms, than presidents like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama who were elected with clear electoral mandates.”

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @

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