However, working in Trump’s favor is the fact that past presidents’ approval ratings have tended to shift over the course of the year — and sometimes by Election Day bear very little resemblance to their Jan. 1 approval. Those shifts haven’t tended to be predictable, either: Five of the last 11 presidents running for reelection saw their approval ratings rise during the year, and six saw them decline. So Trump’s low approval ratings as of January aren’t necessarily a problem for him in November. (For example, depending on how it unfolds, a potential conflict with Iran could certainly affect them.)
This is a good news/bad news situation for Trump: The smart money is against his approval rating budging very much, simply because he’s had a remarkably steady approval rating. As my colleague Geoffrey Skelley wrote last year, it’s fluctuated about 9 points over the course of his presidency — much less than most previous presidents’ approval ratings have fluctuated. Part of this is because of the very polarized era we live in, in which most voters have already made up their minds about what they think about the occupant of the White House. Take Barack Obama, who had a similarly intractable approval rating over the course of his presidency. From Jan. 1 to Nov. 6, 2012 — the year of his reelection campaign — his numbers ticked up by only 3.8 points. What this means in practical terms is that it’s increasingly difficult for presidents to win over new supporters.