President Trump’s historically low job approval rating has been on the rise in recent weeks, giving the president a boost as the White House works to repeal ObamaCare and pass tax reform.
Trump’s job approval rating is still historically low for this point in a first-term presidency, and the latest surveys show only modest improvement, rather than a dramatic spike.
But the upward trend reverses a monthslong slide that was punctuated by countless developments around the Russia investigations and intraparty feuding with GOP leaders. Trump’s equivocal response to the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va., in mid-August had tangible negative political consequences for Trump and appears to have dragged him to the low point of his presidency so far.
But Trump’s attention to the hurricanes that have battered the Gulf region and the return of Republicans that abandoned him over his response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville have helped him change course, analysts say, laying the groundwork for the White House to build on that momentum if it can get tax reform across the finish line.
“These tragedies with the storms that hit have hit Florida and Louisiana and Texas and Puerto Rico — Trump’s attention to those matters and his continued attention to the recovery has brought him higher marks with voters in those states and nationally,” said John McLaughlin, a GOP pollster who advised the Trump campaign. “He won a polarizing presidential race, so you won’t see him bounce higher. It will have to be a positive grind upward.”
This week, Trump ticked up to the 40 percent approval mark in both the RealClearPolitics and Huffpollster averages of major surveys.
Throughout June and July, 17 of the 25 major polls used to calculate the RCP average had Trump mired in the 30s. Seven of the last nine surveys have Trump at 40 percent or higher.
Trump is still at only 38 percent in the latest Gallup survey, but that’s up 4 points in the last three weeks from a low of 34. The latest Reuters-Ipsos survey released Wednesday found Trump improving by 4 points, from 35 to 39, in just the last week.
Much of that appears to be due to Trump’s response to the hurricanes.
In the latest Economist-YouGov survey, voters approved of Trump’s actions on Hurricane Harvey by a 2-to-1 margin. That includes a plurality of Democrats, who approved 42 to 38. A majority of independents, 53 percent, approved, against only 21 percent who said they disapproved.
Trump’s approval rating in that poll has climbed steadily upward over the last three weeks, from 40 to 42 to 43.
Still, GOP pollster David Winston noted that the bump is only a “short-term outcome” from the hurricanes.
For Trump to see sustained growth in approval, he will need to oversee a rise in wages and a continually improving economy, which many Republicans believe starts with tax cuts from the GOP’s reform package.
“He has had a lot of these moments where he goes up and down based on current events, but there has been no structural change,” Winston said. “The structural change will center around the issues of wages and jobs and the economy. He got elected by speaking to these people making less than $50,000 who don’t have a college education in these Rust Belt states. Whether he can get tax reform will be central to how people view his presidency. Until then, it will just be these minor fluctuations.”
Polls are inconclusive about where the Trump bump is coming from.
A Marist survey from August found the increased approval rating coming from improving feelings amongst Republicans who had initially shunned the president after Charlottesville.
In August, Trump’s approval rating dipped to 37 percent in the Marist survey, while he had only a 76 percent approval rating among Republicans.
Trump’s job approval jumped to 41 percent in the latest poll, which put him back at 87 percent support among Republicans.
The same was true in the latest Reuters-Ipsos survey. Only 75 percent of Republicans approved of Trump last week. That figure is at 83 percent now, as Republicans appear to rally behind the president over his handling of national security and the economy.
Meanwhile, a Politico-Morning Consult survey attributed the bump to independents swinging in Trump’s direction, from 35 percent approval last month to 40 percent presently.
“It’s a little bit of both,” said Raghavan Mayur, the president of the analytics firm TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducts the IBD-TIPP poll.
Mayur also attributed Trump’s gains to stock market growth since he’s been in office, the order imposed on the White House, the reduced number of White House leaks since Gen. John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE became chief of staff and Trump’s willingness to work with Democrats — an effort that polls that well.
“Trump’s reaching out to Democrats changes the game,” Mayur said. “I think the markets sense that tax reform has a better chance of passing because of his willingness to reach across the aisle.”
Still, Trump has a lot of ground to make up. As it is, Trump’s job approval rating is low enough that Republicans on Capitol Hill feel comfortable breaking with or rebuking him.
Trump has only just climbed out of the mid-30s. Former President Barack Obama never sunk below 39 percent in Gallup’s daily tracker, and it took years of war in Iraq and a botched response to Hurricane Katrina to pull former President George W. Bush to those levels.
“He got elected with 60 percent of voters viewing him unfavorably,” said Winston. “Nobody has ever been elected with those kinds of negatives and it will take some time to get out of that deep of a hole.”