Nine months into their respective terms, President Donald Trump’s job approval rating is substantially worse than Barack Obama’s was among both partisan groups and Independents, according to Gallup polls.
Trump’s average job approval numbers for the week of October 9 stood at 79 percent among Republicans, 8 percent among Democrats and 33 percent among Independents.
Obama’s approval numbers for the week of October 12, 2009 were 84 percent among Democrats, 16 percent among Republicans and 48 percent among Independents.
Obama’s approval among members of his own party was five points higher than was Trump’s support among his party, and Obama’s support among Republicans was eight points higher than was Trump’s support among Democrats.
More importantly, Obama’s approval among Independents was a substantial 15 points better than was Trump’s job approval among those same voters.
Obviously, Trump’s job approval could move considerably between now and the November midterms, just as Obama’s did.
According to Gallup, Obama’s job approval rating for the week of October 25, 2010 was considerably worse than it had been the previous October among both Republicans and Independents.
While 83 percent of Democrats continued to approve of Obama’s performance, the president’s job approval among both Republicans and Independents fell by 7 points — to 9 percent among Republicans and 41 percent among Independents.
These numbers suggested growing problems for Obama as the midterms approached, and that is exactly what happened.
The current Trump approval numbers should raise concerns among GOP strategists about both turnout and voter behavior in 2018.
After all, if 20 percent of Republicans disapprove of the president’s performance, they are more likely to stay home next November. Conversely, Trump’s worse job numbers among Democrats could mean key demographic groups that didn’t turn out as expected in 2016 – blacks, Hispanics and younger voters – might have a greater incentive to go to the polls next year.
Trump’s job approval numbers among Independents, a crucial swing group, has the potential to be a huge problem for his party in the midterms.
Almost half of Independent voters approved of Obama’s performance nine months into his presidency, while only about one-third of Independents approved of Trump’s performance at the same point.
While many Independents are less engaged in politics and therefore more casual in their voting habits, those who do turn out next year are more likely to see the midterm election as a referendum on the direction of the country and on Trump’s performance – and therefore as an opportunity to express their displeasure with the president and his party.
Of course, Republicans will try to make 2018 another referendum on Obama and Hillary Clinton, insisting that Democrats drove the economy into a ditch and left Trump with a mountain of problems. And Trump surely will talk about all of the great progress the country has made since his election and all of the great things he has done. That’s what sitting presidents invariably do when their first midterm election approaches.
But while those arguments will resonate with his most enthusiastic supporters, they may not be greeted as favorably by voters who do not approve of the president’s performance. And that’s where the Gallup job approval numbers come into play.
The president’s approval numbers could inch up next year, improving the political climate for his party. Even if they don’t, it’s possible that his job numbers won’t presage a terrible Republican year.
Trump’s numbers have never been very good, and since the midterms are a series of individual contests rather than a single national election, the president’s weaker approval ratings don’t automatically translate into Democratic gains. For example, his approval numbers could have dropped disproportionately in states and districts he lost in 2016, limiting the impact of the change.
But Trump’s current job approval, especially compared to Obama’s, at the very least raises questions about partisan turnout levels and Independent voters’ preferences in 2018. And for the moment, the preliminary answers continue to suggest a relatively dangerous political environment for Republicans next year.