Trump’s ratings: Lowest-ever for first 100 days, but not the whole story

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Graphic by Lisa Chiu

President Donald Trump’s approval ratings in his first 100 days aren’t just low. They’re lowest for any U.S. president since pollsters started tracking this more than 60 years ago, according to data from Gallup analyzed by CGTN America.

Polling organizations started paying special attention to the first 100 days, because that’s when a president is supposed to be most effective — during the new administration’s “honeymoon period” when voters tend to be the most optimistic, and forgiving.


On his 97th day in office, Trump’s approval rating was 40 percent. Of the 12 presidents who preceded Trump, the next most unpopular president was Gerald Ford. Forty-eight percent of those polled approved of his performance on his 101st day in office in November 1974. High unemployment and double-digit inflation hurt Ford. As did pardoning his former boss, Richard Nixon — an unpopular move.

For fun, we set Trump’s approval ratings for his first 100 days to music. The lower the tone, the lower the approval rating. Listen to Trump’s first 100 days:

But Trump’s first 100 days don’t tell the whole story.

When looking at approval ratings over entire terms in office, Trump doesn’t look so bad.

The chart below shows how Trump’s predecessors started out with higher ratings, but over the course of their presidencies, their ratings dipped way below where Trump’s are right now.

Trump and the last three presidents

To make it easier to see, we’ve broken down the ratings by administration. The chart below shows approval ratings for Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

On his 136th day in office, Clinton’s approval ratings dipped to 36 percent, but quickly rebounded a couple weeks later after he ordered U.S. warships to launch missiles against the Iraqi Intelligence Service in retaliation for a suspected plot to kill George H.W.

Clinton’s approval ratings would never sink that low again.

Listen to Obama’s approval ratings for his presidency in music:

That wasn’t the case for George W. Bush.

Bush II’s ratings look unremarkable during his first 200 days. They skyrocketed to record levels after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. “Dubya’s” approval ratings went from 51 percent approval just before 9/11 to 85 percent the week after.

By early 2002, those numbers would start to decline relatively steadily — except for a bump during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. His ratings would sink to a low of 25 percent. In his last year in office, his approvals never got above 34 percent.

Listen to Bush II’s approval ratings in music below. Very quickly you can hear the shift to higher notes indicating Bush II’s higher ratings after Sept. 11. The music then shifts to steadily declining low notes for the rest of his term.


Trump and the presidents of the 1970s-1980s


How does Trump compare to the presidents during the decades of disco and yuppies? Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush I all saw their ratings dip below Trump’s current approval ratings. With the exception of Ford, the low numbers all fell in second halves of their presidencies.

Nixon’s approval ratings plunged to 22 percent in January 1974 during the Watergate scandal. Threatened with impeachment, Nixon resigned.

Carter dipped to a low of 28 percent in the spring and summer of 1979 during the worldwide gasoline shortage. He had a bump in November 1979 after Iranian students took 66 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. But his ratings declined during the hostage crisis, which didn’t end until the day he left office.

Reagan’s approval slumped to 35 percent in January 1983 during the peak of 1980s recession. His ratings rebounded. They climbed above 50 percent by fall of 1983.

George H.W. Bush also tumbled to 29 percent approvals in the late summer and fall of 1992. It was in the middle of another recession and a period of high unemployment. He also rebounded by the end of his term.


Trump and Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman, FDR


Trump’s current numbers can’t compare to the record popularity of John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower. But Trump looks pretty good compared to Harry Truman.

Truman was one of the most “unpopular” presidents according to Gallup poll data.

He reached a low of 22 percent in late 1951-early 1952. Truman’s approval ratings never climbed above 32 percent during his last days in office — six months before the end of the Korean War.

Many Americans blamed him for “botching” the Korean War after U.S. military operations ended in stalemate, instead of victory. Under his watch, the Bureau of Internal Revenue also faced a corruption scandal, which resulted in many employees resigning or being forced out.

The big picture

When looking at the median approval ratings for the full terms of U.S. presidents, Gallup data shows the clear front-runner among the 12 presidents preceding Trump was John F. Kennedy. JFK’s median approval rating was 72 percent, followed by Eisenhower at 64 percent, and Bush I at 63 percent.

While Franklin Delano Roosevelt had Kennedy beat, polling for FDR only tracked the last two of his 12 years office.

Trump’s median approval rating is so far still above Truman’s 38 percent. But that’s across eight years in office, not 100 days.