President Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks to board Marine One at the White House on Dec. 4. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

This is not the sort of chart a president wants to see, at least if you are the president with the name “Trump.”


President Trump’s approval rating in Pew Research‘s surveys has been the lowest for the first year of any recent president, briefly mirroring Bill Clinton’s doldrums in mid-1993, but otherwise starting low and ending lower.

That he has been in that position all year, though, means that this isn’t really news, in the sense that news is predicated on things that are new. Trump is 16 points below the second-least-popular president in his first year since Reagan, and that’s not the headline. Instead, we learn something fascinating about that group that does approve of Trump.

In its most recent poll, Pew asked supporters of the president if there was anything that they might change about the first few months of his presidency, as it did eight years ago at the end of President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

At this point in 2009, 30 percent of those who viewed Obama positively said they wished he had done something differently. Among Trump supporters, 37 percent say the same thing.


The interesting part, though, is what they wish they had seen the president they like do differently. For Obama, most of the objections were split between concerns about his domestic policy — about health care or the economy — and foreign policy. For Trump? The overwhelming concern was his style.


Responses were about split between those who objected to his use of Twitter and his “unprofessional behavior.”

There’s another layer to this, though. In August, Pew asked Trump supporters what they liked about the way he was doing his job. At that point, more than half of those who said they liked him said it was because of his style. Far fewer credited his policies.


At first, this seems hard to reconcile. Trump supporters wish he would change his style but also like his style? But looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see how this is the case.

The August poll found that 54 percent of those who approve of Trump like him because they like his style. Since August, his numbers haven’t changed that much, so let’s assume that generally holds. In the most recent poll, 26 percent of those who expressed disappointment in Trump cited his style. But only 37 percent said they had some disappointment in how Trump had performed, so those that cited his style make up only about 10 percent of all of Trump supporters.

Put another way, a little less than two-thirds of Trump supporters have their impressions of him colored by his behavior. Among that group, supporters are five times more likely to view him positively because of his behavior than to express disappointment.

This is why Trump does what he does. Maybe changing the way he operates would give him better overall numbers. But he’s not worried about overall numbers. He’s worried about his base, and his base is strengthened by his being “modern-day presidential.”