In what ways is President Trump unique?
“So many,” you say.
I won’t rehearse them all now, but his uniqueness also extends to the ways in which the public perceives him.
First and foremost, President Trump is uniquely unpopular. He had the lowest approval rating of any president in the history of polling at his inauguration, at the 100-day mark, and now, again, six months into his administration.
And it’s not even close.
On average, at this point, presidents have won the approval of 62 percent of the American people. Trump falls dramatically short of that benchmark, with the three most recent quality surveys pegging his approval rating at just 36 percent to 39 percent.
The unelected Gerald Ford was nearly in the same position as Trump, though by this point he had pardoned Richard Nixon for his role in Watergate, earning the disrespect of many. (Democrats gained 49 seats in the following midterm.)
But it is in making enemies where Trump really excels. In those same recent surveys, an average of 55 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of the presidency.
On average, fewer than 26 percent have disapproved of the way our presidents have performed by this point in their first term.
Trump’s disapproval is more than twice that average. Even President Ford only got to 43 percent disapproval with his pardon of Nixon.
Antipathy to Trump is not only uniquely broad, it is also unusually deep.
Nearly half the country strongly disapproves of his performance. So, Trump is uniquely unpopular at this stage of his presidency.
Moreover, he is uniquely unpopular when Americans’ perceptions of the economy are the best they’ve been in a decade.
Presidential popularity is, in part, a function of economic performance and yet Trump isn’t benefiting from it the way he should.
According to Pew data, for the first time since the recession, a majority are positive about America’s economic situation.
Consumer confidence these last several months has also reached highs not seen 2007.
If Trump’s approval rating were a simple reflection of economic perceptions, it would be over 50 percent and as high as 60 percent.
Yet he’s below 40 percent. Unheard of.
While some argue the president’s approval rating will rise to match its economic underpinnings, I’m doubtful.
First, continued economic growth is not a given. Wages have not risen meaningfully. Moreover, as University of Michigan consumer confidence expert Richard Curtin noted, “Confidence in future economic prospects continued to slide in early July … the recent data follow the same pattern repeatedly recorded around past cyclical peaks: expectations start to post significant declines while assessments of current economic conditions continue to reach new peaks.”
In other words, Curtin isn’t expecting a new recession, but his data suggest growth may be slowing, so the economy may be less of a bright spot for Trump down the road.
More important, his problems are not mainly the result of how things are going, but rather who Americans perceive him to be.
Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones reports that unlike Presidents George W. Bush and Obama (the only ones for whom these data exist), more Americans say they agree with Trump on the issues than feel he has the personal qualities necessary for a president.
I hasten to add that fewer people agree with him on the issues than agreed with Bush or Obama, but the number believing Trump has the requisite personality and leadership qualities is not only lower than the number who agree with him on issues, it is also 25-26 points lower than the number who thought Barack Obama and George W. Bush had what it takes to be president.
In short, thus far, the American people have rendered a uniquely harsh judgement on President Trump, a negative judgment based on both his character and performance.
Mellman is President of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. Senators, 12 Governors and dozens of House Members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic Leaders for over 20 years and served as President of the American Association of Political Consultants.