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Opinion
Jonathan Bernstein

Keep an Eye on Trump’s Sliding Approval Rating

If he wants to win re-election, the president needs better numbers. It’s hard to imagine what could make that happen.

It’s not getting better.

It’s not getting better.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

As Nate Silver noticed Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump’s approval rating has now hit a post-shutdown low. By the end of the day, and after a bunch of new polls, the FiveThirtyEight calculator had it at 41%. That’s not just the lowest since Trump recovered from the shutdown, but it’s also the worst, outside of the shutdown, since last September. 

Looked at another way, Trump has been declining since hitting 43% on July 23. In general, a 2 percentage-point swing in approval rating isn’t much. But this particular 2-point swing could be a big deal. A president at 43% could really be at 45% if the polls underestimate his support, and a president at 45% only needs to overperform his approval rating by a small amount to win the election, especially if the Electoral College is tilted in his direction. Of course, those “ifs” could go the other way: Perhaps the polls are overstating support for the president, who will underperform his approval ratings, and then be further hurt by the Electoral College.