clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

For Trump voters, everything is still awesome. This may be why.

The mystery of Trump’s surprisingly buoyant approval rating.

President Trump Gives Statement On Healthcare At General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee
Waving through a window
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

With few major victories and a long list of disappointments, it’s been a downhill presidency for Donald Trump so far. Even with Congress in his pocket, Trump has struggled to repeal and replace Obamacare, letting voters down on one of his signature campaign promises. His big talk on trade and China has translated into little concrete action, and his first diplomatic trip abroad damaged long-standing alliances while going viral in the worst way — with a GIF of him shoving another head of state.

But hey, at least the economy’s looking good, right?

Seriously. At this point, the sunny economy — with the unemployment rate at 4.3 percent and GDP growth expected to accelerate this quarter — might be the only thing keeping Trump’s approval rating from collapsing.

According to the latest Vox/SurveyMonkey Economic Confidence Index, Americans’ faith in the economy has remained more or less the same over the past six months. This may explain why the President’s headline approval rating has only dropped slightly since he took office.

In recent weeks, Trump’s presidency has been overshadowed by the Russia scandal, which now involves multiple subplots, including the controversy over the firing of FBI director James Comey; the probe into possible collusion between Russian agents and his son-in-law Jared Kushner; and the new investigation into whether Trump is guilty of obstructing justice.

Most of that unsettling news came out in May and June. And yet over the past six weeks, the President’s approval rating hasn’t changed dramatically, according to Gallup’s daily tracking poll. In early May, Trump approval was hovering around 40 percent. Lately, it’s been hovering around 38 percent.

Our data, which comes from monthly, nationally representative online surveys of about 9,000 people, shows the same pattern. Between the first week of May and the first week of June, the percentage of Americans who said they approved of Trump’s performance dipped from 44.6 percent to 42.5 percent.

Because our survey is large and sensitive enough to detect minute differences from month to month, we can say that this dip of 2 percentage points is not the result of a random fluke. It is statistically significant. Between March and June, Trump approval really did decline slightly, which is likely a result of the avalanche of negative headlines in recent weeks.

On the other hand, you might have expected Trump approval to drop a lot more than just 2 percentage points. Trump’s June approval rating is the lowest we’ve seen, but it’s not that far off from the previous low, in April, when it was around 43.2 percent. (The difference between June and April, by the way, is not statistically significant.)

Trump’s remarkably resilient approval rating reflects, in part, the degree to which Americans are polarized. Most Democrats disapproved of Trump from the very beginning, and most Trump voters have been stubborn in their support. These partisan convictions have not budged. Between May and June, only independent voters had a noticeable decline in their opinion.

Trump’s fans still think the economy is going great

But the economy is also part of the story. Since February, economic confidence has been rock steady — Republicans continue to think the economy is going well, and Democrats continue to think the nation is in trouble.

There is of course a well-documented relationship between partisanship and economic perceptions. Having someone you approve of take office can make you believe the economy is doing better right now — even if your politician hasn’t had a chance to do anything yet. (That’s what surveys reported when Trump was elected — a sudden uptick in economic confidence.)

The reverse is true as well. A revved-up economy can color people’s perceptions of their politicians. Trump inherited a rosy situation from his predecessor. The economy is not in perfect health, and overall growth is still disappointingly slow, but the number of jobs continues to rise, and the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since 2001. In other words, people who want to work do not seem to have much trouble finding employment.

Even if some Republicans might be disappointed in president’s lack of progress so far on his other goals, they remain confident in the nation’s economic outlook. In May, 68 percent of right-leaning voters thought next year’s business conditions would be good. In June, that percentage actually increased to 71 percent.

A cynical way to interpret these statistics is to say that the president has successfully stalled for time with symbolic economic gestures, like his redundant order for the government to “Buy American” or the very preliminary steps he’s taken to renegotiate NAFTA.

But hey, when the economy’s doing well, it’s hard to complain too much.

The Vox/SurveyMonkey survey of economic confidence is a nationally representative online poll of about 9,000 or more Americans, conducted monthly since January. The economic confidence index is calculated from five different questions that ask about people’s economic outlook for themselves and for the national overall. It was produced in a partnership between Vox editorial staff and Jon Cohen and Laura Wronski of SurveyMonkey.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.