Trump's Popularity Ratings Vs. Obama's Tell Two Pretty Complicated Stories

ByMonica Busch
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

One thing that is true of Donald Trump is that he loves to discuss his popularity rankings, especially as they compare to his predecessor. But Trump's and Obama's popularity ratings can be difficult to accurately compare because there are many extenuating circumstances to any presidency, like what types of legislation are being debated, what international conflicts are taking place, and how far along Trump is in his term. However, several polls show that, as of this summer, their ratings pretty much align.

One of the best ways to compare Trump and Obama's popularity ratings is to look at a side-by-side chart of their ratings over time. The Rasmussen Report's Daily Presidential Tracker is one data collection tub that offers a way to do just that.

According to a graph compiled from the tracker's data, Trump and Obama did begin their presidencies with a bit of an approval rating gap — Obama began at 67 percent approval and Trump at 56 percent. Both numbers are logged from Jan. 20 — Inauguration Day. By August, however, their approval numbers appeared to tell a bit of a different story. While both presidents' ratings dropped overall, they began to overlap as time went on. By Aug. 20, 2018, Trump's approval rating was 48 percent. At the same time during Obama's presidency, his approval rating was 45 percent, according to Rasmussen.

Other polls and data sets suggest a similar pattern. A June poll completed by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found that Trump, Obama, and even Ronald Reagan all had similar approval ratings by their second June in the White House. All three presidents ranked in at about 44 percent, according to pollsters.

When given the opportunity to directly compare the two, one poll suggests that more people seem to believe Obama was a better president than Trump has been so far. A poll conducted by CNN earlier this year and released in the first week of May found that 37 percent of respondents believed Trump was a superior president than Obama, whereas 56 percent believe Obama was better at the job. Though that poll didn't account for Obama's past approval ratings, it did seem to offer some insight into how the public views both presidents in the current moment.

Another way to consider how Obama and Trump's approval ratings stack up is to consider comparing their highest and lowest ratings ever. According to the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center, Obama's highest ever approval rating was 67 percent, whereas Trump's current highest ever approval rating is 45 percent. In turn, Obama's lowest ever approval rating was 40 percent, and Trump's was 35 percent. Of course, Obama was in office for eight years, and Trump has been in Washington for less than two years, so it's important to keep that in mind.

Right now, everyone is focused on the midterms, and, more specifically, whether or not Democrats will be able to flip either the House or the Senate. Many are framing the midterm elections as a referendum on Trump's presidency so far. These polls could potentially offer some insight into how voting might go down.

According to Newsweek, both Obama and Reagan's respective parties faired very poorly in midterms that took place just five months after their June 44 percent approval ratings were logged. Of course, nothing is a guarantee, and polls are frequently wrong, but it's definitely something to consider if you're among the people whose eyes are set on November.

Another thing to keep in mind is that virtually no president leaves as or more popular than when he enters office. The only exceptions to this rule have been Reagan and Bill Clinton, according to the Saturday Evening Post. They exited 10 and eight points higher than when they entered office, respectively. So when you see a president's popularity dropping steadily overtime, it doesn't necessarily reflect on their performance.

The fact of the matter is that even the most well-intentioned presidents cannot deliver on all of their campaign promises immediately, and they frequently run into unanticipated scenarios, like natural disasters or international conflicts. How they respond to these surprises can impact how constituents feel about them from day to day, or month to month. Like the weather, approval ratings are prone to changing at just about any time.