How Low Can Trump Go?

(Bloomberg View) -- Good news for Donald Trump? Based on FiveThirtyEight's historical polling numbers, Trump once again has only the second-worst approval numbers of any president in the polling era at the same point in their presidency. He had already (very briefly) passed Bill Clinton a few weeks ago, and now he's doing a bit better than Gerald Ford. Trump's estimated approval is 39.5 percent, while Ford was down to 34.8 percent. Advantage: Trump!

Well, sort of. For one thing, Ford inherited the presidency, so the "same" point in his term -- 158 days in -- isn't really comparable to Trump's 158 days. For another, Trump's disapproval rating is still the worst, and so is his net approval (that is, approval minus disapproval). Trump currently sits at -15.7 percent net approval, somewhat below same-point Clinton at -9.1 and Ford at -6.4. Every other president from Harry Truman through Barack Obama was in positive territory at that point; in fact, the next-worst was George W. Bush, at 16.6. 

One other quick caveat: Go back in time and there are fewer polls, which means polling averages are less reliable. 

So one reason to revisit this is that's it's worth stepping back occasionally to remember just how remarkable the Trump presidency is. I still hear people say that the normal rules don't apply to the tweeter in chief, but in fact he does the kinds of things that make politicians unpopular and ... becomes unpopular. Or, to put it another way, all it took was pardoning Richard Nixon and a deep recession for Ford to become even less popular than Trump. Sort of.

The other quick point here is that we have a great example of how polling numbers can fluctuate in Gallup's tracking poll. The president's Gallup approval went from 37 percent on June 20 to 39 percent, 42, 39, 38, and then 36 percent on June 25. Did Trump really get 5 points more popular and then lose all of it back and more over the last week? Of course not. It's just the random variation that all polls have -- the RealClearPolitics polling average, which is designed to be more sensitive to small changes than FiveThirtyEight's (or the Huffington Post's), barely registered any change. But I did see people take to Twitter to "explain" the Gallup surge and drop as if it was real. 

All that said: Clinton recovered from his awful start to win reelection easily; Ronald Reagan's worst days (by approval polling, at least) were still well into the future at this point in his presidency, but he too rallied from that and won 49 states in 1984. There's plenty of time for Trump to turn it around in theory. Whether this president is capable of it is another story. 

1. Andrea Campbell on class and the 2016 election

2. At the Monkey Cage, Erica Chenoweth, Erica MacDonald and Jeremy Pressman have their regular report on protests in the U.S.

3. A very promising new blog at the Washington Post authored by historians: Brian Rosenwald and Nicole Hemmer introduce Made By History

4. My Bloomberg View colleague Ramesh Ponnuru on strong words and civility. I tend to agree with his main point, but with a caveat: Specifics matter. Honest and civil discussion demands we are careful about questioning motives, and that we are careful about how things are worded. But yes, there's nothing unhealthy about pointing out grave consequences of a policy proposal if one legitimately believes that would be the case. To put it another way? There's nothing wrong at all with asserting that "people will die" if some policy goes forward, if in fact there is valid reason to believe it. But I'd avoid calling those proposing the policy murderers, or asserting they are indifferent to loss of life. 

5. Leah Litman at Take Care on the Supreme Court's action on the travel ban

6. Max Ehrenfreund at Wonkblog on a new study about the effects of a higher minimum wage. Only one study, so the usual caveats apply; the good news about state and local experiments is that we'll get more evidence soon. 

7. And Trump is really, really unpopular in most of the world. Big exception? Russia. Pew has the numbers. 

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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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