The FINANCIAL -- WASHINGTON, D.C.. President Donald Trump's job approval rating averaged 39.1% during his fifth quarter in office, from late January through late April. His fifth-quarter ratings are modestly improved from the prior two quarters when his job approval was under 37%. However, his quarterly job approval ratings continue to trail the averages of his predecessors in the Oval Office by more than 20 percentage points.
Throughout his five quarters in office, the deficit between Trump and the nine elected presidents before him has averaged 24 points. That compares with an average eight-point deficit between Barack Obama and the eight presidents before him through five quarters in office, and an average 15-point deficit for Bill Clinton and the six elected presidents who served before him. George W. Bush's job approval ratings during his first five quarters in office exceeded his seven predecessors' by an average eight points, primarily because of the rally in support he enjoyed after 9/11, according to Gallup.
Trump's fifth-quarter approval rating is based on an average of the 13 weekly Gallup approval ratings collected from late January through late April.
The nine presidents elected to their first term from Dwight Eisenhower through Obama averaged 60.8% job approval during their fifth quarters in office. The roughly 22-point gap in Trump's and his predecessors' fifth-quarter averages is among the smallest to date. The smaller gap is partly due to the improvement in Trump's ratings this past quarter and partly due to prior fifth-quarter presidents tending to have declining approval at that stage in their presidencies. By the fifth quarter in office, many presidents' "honeymoon period" of higher public support had ended.
Trump's ratings have been much lower than his predecessors' largely because he had no honeymoon to speak of, starting off his term with only a 45% approval rating, the highest it has been to date.
The gap between Trump and his predecessors was widest during his third and fourth quarters in office, with differences of 26 and 27 points, respectively. Trump's job approval, based on Gallup weekly polling averages, did not reach 40% at any point during those quarters. But his approval was 40% or higher during four separate weeks of his fifth quarter. The first two of these occurred in late January and early February after he delivered the State of the Union address in which he touted the nation's economic progress.
Trump's most recent weekly average, based on April 16-22 interviewing, is 38%.
Republicans Are Driving Increase in Trump Ratings
Trump's fellow Republicans are almost entirely responsible for the improvement in his fifth-quarter ratings. Eighty-six percent of Republicans -- up from 81% in the prior quarter -- approved of the way he was handling his job. His 33% approval among independents was unchanged, and his 8% approval among Democrats was similar to their 7% in the fourth quarter. Nearly all of the movement in Trump's approval the last three quarters has been due to shifts among Republicans -- a decline followed by a rebound.
Three Other Presidents Were Below Majority Approval in Fifth Quarter
While the nine elected presidents prior to Trump averaged better than 60% job approval during their fifth quarter, there was considerable variation among them. George W. Bush, enjoying the continued rally in public support after 9/11, and John Kennedy were near 80% approval at that point in their presidency. The elder George Bush also had job approval at 70% as the U.S. economy stayed strong and the Cold War was ending in early 1990.
Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Obama all had sub-50% job approval ratings during their fifth quarters. All came to power during difficult economic times that continued into their fifth quarters in office. Reagan had the lowest fifth-quarter job approval rating prior to Trump, but it still was seven points higher than Trump's is today.
Trump is just the third elected president to have his approval rating increase between his fourth and fifth quarters in office. Only Eisenhower (from 65.0% to 67.8%) and Clinton (from 51.0% to 52.1%) before Trump saw any increase in approval during that time.
As he begins his sixth quarter in office, Trump hopes to break an even stronger historical trend. All presidents except Richard Nixon saw declines in their job approval during their sixth quarters, with the average decline being four points.
Trump's approval ratings continue to rank well below those for the presidents who came before him, and the modest improvement he saw in the fifth quarter did not meaningfully alter that pattern. His job approval is still more than 20 points below what has been typical for presidents and seven points worse than the previous low for a president at a similar time in his term.
A solid economy has done little to change Americans' views of Trump's performance, with Democratic opposition to the president seemingly entrenched, independents largely uninspired, and only modest gains among Republicans who mostly support Trump anyway. Assuming Americans' primary basis for evaluating Trump continues to be the match between his party affiliation and theirs, the prospect of significant improvement in his approval rating appears limited. With Republicans' views seeming the most malleable, unless there are dramatic events that disrupt the political landscape, Trump's future ratings may vary only modestly between the low 40s and mid-30s depending on how much of his base he satisfies at any given time.