July 11, 2020
In previous posts, I have stated that no incumbent President has won re-election with an approval rating less than 48% on the last poll before the election since Truman.
The reasoning for this statistical fact is based on the theory that the approval rating gauges both the president’s popularity as well as his job performance. In essence, the job approval of a incumbent president is a referendum on his performance. Most scholars consider this rating the best single measure for reelection, but only within a couple of months of the election.
It’s no secret that Trump’s approval ratings have been low for sometime. His rating has averaged 42.9% over the last six months, 5% less than it should be on election day. But how does this compare to other president’s ratings at the same period in the past? And does he still have time to recover?
I decided that the 2012 election would make a good comparison since Barack Obama also suffered from a job approval deficiency during much of his final year before his reelection.
In a comparison of Trump and Obama’s job approval rating from January through June of their final year in office. In Table 1 below, are the approval ratings of both candidates’ from polls conducted on the same dates — but, of course, from different years: 2011 /2012 for Obama and 2019 / 2020 for Trump.
|TRUMP SURVEY||TRUMP||OBAMA||OBAMA SURVEY||POLL|
|End Date||APPROVE||APPROVE||END DATE||DIFFERNCE|
The survey dates are identical for both series to keep the comparison in the same time frame prior to the next election. The only difference is the year of the poll.
The last column shows the two candidate’s approval differences. Positive numbers indicate that Obama’s ratings were higher and the negative values shows that Trump’s ratings were higher (Obama rating ,- Trump rating).
During these two campaign time frames, Trump’s average approval rating is 43% and Obama has an average rating of 47%. The final two approval ratings for Trump in this series were his lowest at 37% each and trashed his average. In comparison, that gave Obama a 17% rating lead over Trump. The figure below shows how the two candidate’s approval ratings varied in the respective time periods.
Obama (blue line) started out higher during this time period, but then took a dive around August and didn’t recover until October of 2011. Trump was doing better see-sawing closer to the 50% mark, his highest ratings of his presidency.
But in last two July polls, his ratings collapsed by 20 points. His falling approval rating is likely caused by the rising cases of Covid-19 and his response to the crisis. If that is the case, his approval ratings may not bounce back anytime soon, if at all.
In the November of 2012, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney with 51.1% of the popular vote. His last approval rating before the election was 47.9%. (OK, its not quite 48%).
Donald Trump could still increase his ratings in the next four months, but time is running out and the virus is again raising its ugly head.
I know most folks are watching the trial ballot polls between Trump and Biden, but we should keep an eye on the job approval ratings as well. Be safe…
Correct me if I am wrong, but I seem to remember from past presidential elections that the polls frequently tighten up the closer we get to the election. And as you stated in a previous article, it is what happens at the state level that matters. A majority in the national popular vote does not give one the presidency. A candidate needs to capture the Electoral Vote to win the election.
You are absolutely right, especially in this election. I’m actually writing a post now that involves 10 swing states and how they will likely determine who wins this election. I hope to publish it today. Jim