from The Water's Edge

Donald Trump’s Low Favorability Rating Means Less Than You Might Think

January 19, 2017

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Donald Trump is set to become president tomorrow with the lowest favorability ratings of any recent U.S. president. Does that mean he will have trouble enacting his agenda for making America great again? Hardly.

The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll found that just 40 percent of Americans view Trump favorably. As the table below shows, that’s well below where any of the last six first-time presidents stood as they prepared to take office. Even the president-elect with the next lowest favorability rating, Ronald Reagan in 1981, stood eighteen points higher.

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As the Carter and Reagan presidencies show, a president’s starting poll number doesn’t guarantee, or preclude, success. All other things being equal, though, popularity is power. Presidents riding high in the polls have more friends than those who are riding low. But all other things aren’t always equal. In Trump’s case, Republicans control both houses of Congress. Party loyalty goes a long way in Washington, DC.

A factor reinforcing that party loyalty can be found in another finding from the Washington Post-ABC News that has gotten far less play but should be kept in mind when looking at future polls: Trump’s historically low favorability rating reflects a deep partisan divide. Eighty-four percent of Democrats view him unfavorably. In comparison, 76 percent of Republicans say the opposite. Those are the voters that Republican members of Congress will pay the closest attention to. And for now they are pretty pleased.

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