President Trump’s approval ratings, 2017

The Trump years, which wrought an untold amount of chaos on the American political and social landscapes, are finally over. When we look back and see just what happened during this time, however, what in particular stands out?

It’s no secret that Trump presided over an incredibly divisive political climate. Disturbing talk about “civil war” came from both the Right and Left. Trump himself was regularly compared to history’s most notorious dictators by his liberal opposition, and Trump’s supporters claimed many leading Democrats were baby-killing monsters. The bizarre and unhealthy climate surrounding Trump’s policy and persona finally came to a head in January 2021 when a horde of Trump’s supporters, egged on by the President and his oft-repeated claims of “election fraud,” stormed the Capitol in order to prevent Congress from certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

America having a normal one, as usual.

Despite (like every incoming President) vowing “unity” to a torn country in his Inaugural Address, Trump’s 2016 campaign was among the bitterest in American history. Upon taking office, Trump did little to position himself as a sensible moderate to calm the nerves of a jilted nation. Perhaps liberals deserve some blame for overreacting to Trump’s policies, but in every issue that came his way — from COVID-19 to racial justice — Trump only fanned the flames of social discord, through bombastic TV interviews and his notoriously drama-filled (now banned) Twitter account. We can see just how negatively most Americans reacted to Trump’s policies below:

Trump certainly had problems grasping the essence of truth-telling, and near-continuous lying in all sizes and shapes was second nature to him. Among these lies — perhaps more of a boast, but a falsehood nonetheless — was that his approval ratings were among the highest for Republican presidents.

Of course, as evidenced by the graph above, Trump’s approval ratings were not actually very good. I forget which particular “crisis” engulfed his White House in the summer of 2017 (and I don’t care enough to look it up), but whatever the case, the average Trump’s approval ratings was a measly 38 percent. Nearly 60 percent of Americans disapproved of his job at the time and this group, presumably, includes many Republicans.

Trump’s most astounding accomplishment while in office was his capture of the unwavering support of about one-third of the American population. Indeed, this support bordered on near-religious devotion. To this “faithful third” was added another 10–15 percent — probably mostly Republicans — who were willing to vote for him as a “lesser of two evils.” The rest of the country, of course, was opposed to Trump to greater or lesser extents.

I don’t have hard figures on this data — it’s a hunch I’ve developed by observing the American political scene for the past few years — but the above graph does appear to provide some confirmation to my thesis. Within his first year, Trump generally averaged between 40 and 45 percent approval. Indeed, the Pew Research Center characterized Trump’s numbers as “unusually stable” in a 2020 report — just more evidence of the intense partisanship Trump heralded.

If Trump runs again in 2024, I suspect we will see this “faithful third” re-emerge in his support. And if Trump does recapture the Presidency, we can only imagine that his approval ratings will be ranked even lower by a weary nation.



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