The FINANCIAL — Americans are evenly divided in their assessment of the way Donald Trump is handling his presidential transition, with 48% approving and 48% disapproving. By contrast, 65% or more approved of the way the past three presidents-elect were handling their transitions at similar points in time, including 75% for Barack Obama in December 2008.
Trump’s rating is based on a new Dec. 7-11 Gallup poll and gives an initial read on how Americans think the president-elect is handling the transition process. Trump has announced his choices for many of the cabinet-level positions in his administration, selecting many business and military leaders and relatively few with prior political experience. In addition, he has held public rallies in states crucial to his victory and weighed in on some issues on Twitter.
One major reason Trump’s transition approval lags well behind his predecessors’ is that members of the opposition party are far more critical of Trump than they were of prior presidents-elect. Whereas 17% of Democrats approve of Trump’s presidential transition, the ratings for Obama and Bill Clinton among Republicans and for George W. Bush among Democrats were near 50%, according to Gallup.
Democrats’ low level of approval of Trump may foreshadow a high degree of political polarization in his forthcoming job approval ratings as president, which has been the case for Obama during his time in office.
Trump also does significantly worse among independents than the past three presidents-elect did: 46% approve of the way Trump is handling his transition, compared with 64% for Clinton, 59% for Bush and 75% for Obama.
Trump receives a high 86% approval rating among Republicans, but that is still slightly lower than approval ratings for Bush (93%) and Obama (93%) among their parties’ supporters. However, it is similar to Clinton’s 83% transition approval among Democrats.
Transition Approval Ratings Usually Exceed Initial Job Approval Ratings
Transition approval ratings taken in December and January have tended to be higher than presidents’ initial job approval rating after they were inaugurated. On average, recent presidents’ transition approval ratings have been about eight points higher than their first presidential job approval ratings.
If the recent historical pattern holds, Trump’s initial job approval rating after he takes office could be in the low 40% range. To date, the lowest initial job approval rating in Gallup’s records is 51%, held by both Ronald Reagan in 1981 and George H.W. Bush in 1989.
The difference in transition approval versus initial job approval is mostly attributable to an increase in the percentage of Americans who do not have an opinion of the job the newly inaugurated president is doing. For the past three presidents, an average of 20% of Americans did not have an opinion of the job each was doing in Gallup’s first measurement. That compares with an average 11% not having an opinion of the way the president was handling his transition in the final Gallup update on that measure for each.
In a little more than one month, Donald Trump will take office as the nation’s 45th president. Presidents-elect generally enjoy broad public support during their transition phase, but that has not been the case for Trump — with as many Americans disapproving of the way he is handling his transition as approving of it.
Trump has a stiff challenge in winning over the public, given his low favorable ratings, which may have been a factor in him losing the popular vote. George W. Bush also took office having lost the popular vote, but he was a more well-liked figure and enjoyed solid public support during his transition phase and in the first weeks after he took office.
Trump still has time to turn the tide and avoid starting his presidency with the lowest public support in Gallup’s polling history, but that would largely entail gaining the support of independents and, in particular, Democrats — most of whom appear reluctant to back him.