But it’s also possible that these steady numbers are not as much about partisan polarization as we think. It could have everything to do with personality. Lara Brown, the director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, said that the small movement we see in Trump and Obama’s approval ratings “may be the ultimate expression of the personalization of the presidency.” That is, loyalty to the president rather than loyalty to the party could be driving the intensely polarized views of the latest presidents. As an example, Brown pointed to the fact that Democrats and Republicans stuck with their presidential standard bearers despite the president’s party suffering major midterm losses in 2010, 2014 and 2018. Personality-driven politics might make sense in an era where parties are increasingly weak, meaning they don’t exert the same amount of clout over candidates as they once did. Trump is a great example of this, as he had a mixed political history and wasn’t a textbook conservative before he ran for the 2016 Republican nomination and won.
We may yet see big swings in Trump’s approval — we can’t say when the next seismic economic or foreign policy event might occur. But so far, at least, Trump is exhibiting an even greater degree of stasis than Obama did when it comes to job approval. Given how deeply divided American politics is and how polarizing Trump is, don’t be surprised if his ratings remain steady regardless of what’s going on around him.