Don't Be Fooled By Donald Trump's So-Called Spike In Popularity

All the way through the presidential election, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were extremely disliked by most Americans. Both had historically low ratings in polls, with more saying they disliked than liked them. For most of it, Trump was more disliked, but that did not stop him from winning the presidency, even if it may have prevented a popular vote win.

In the two weeks since Trump was elected, he's experienced something common for incoming presidents — many Americans who had previously viewed him distastefully have come around after the contentious election. A Politico / Morning Consult poll released Monday morning showed Trump's favorability rating jumping 9 points since before the election. The headline reads: "Poll: Trump's Popularity Soars After Election."

Nine percent is a noticeable jump, especially in the midst of a rocky transition, during which Trump has courted controversy for appointing officials accused of racism, broken norms over press freedoms, paid $25 million to settle fraud charges, and become embroiled in potential conflicts of interest. But it's worth keeping perspective — Trump's popularity "soared" to a mere 46 percent, while his unfavorability moved from 61 percent to 46 percent. An equal number of those polled like him as dislike him.

This is great for Trump compared to during the election, but in context, it's abysmal. President-elects usually experience surges in support after the vitriol of campaigning ends. A week after Barack Obama's election in 2008, a CNN poll found that two-thirds of Americans liked him. George W. Bush — who, like Trump, won the presidency without securing the popular vote — came into office with 57 percent of Americans supporting him. And further polling data from the Pew Research Center similarly finds Americans not ready to rally around their new president.

On some level, it doesn't matter if Trump is popular. He won, and that brings with it all the duties and powers of the office of the president, whether you like it or not. But coming into office unpopular makes it hard for Trump to rally his political opponents to his side, and gives cover for even his own party to fight him. Presidential popularity also affects the fortunes of his party. Obama's relative unpopularity was blamed for a bad result for Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections. Obama's approval then was 44 percent.

The Morning Consult poll finds that the current president's approval rating is much better than Trump's, at 54 percent approve, 43 percent disapprove. For the next four years, Americans will have to compare a president they tend to dislike after he lost the popular vote by a whole percentage point and 1.5 million votes with one who they still like a lot. Trump will have to prove himself to the country in a big way before Americans start supporting him.