The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Donald Trump’s brutal pre-inauguration poll numbers, in context

Donald Trump will take the oath of office as the most unpopular president in at least four decades, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Just 40 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Trump right now. A majority — 54 percent — have an unfavorable one.

And that probably undersells just how historically unpopular our new president is right now. The only reason we can't go back further than four decades is because we simply don't have the data; polls weren't as plentiful back then.

The data we do have suggest every president but Trump has experienced an outpouring of goodwill in the two months between their election and their swearing-in. Trump just hasn't gotten it.

The pre-inauguration favorable numbers for the six presidents to come before him, in fact, were all significantly higher than their share of the popular vote. For President Obama, it was 26 points higher (79 percent favorable vs. 53 percent of the vote). Every other recent president except Ronald Reagan was at least double-digits higher — as much as 28 points for Jimmy Carter. (Reagan's was 7 points higher.)

The favorable rating for Trump, meanwhile, is actually six points below his vote share (46 percent).

That kind of context makes clear that Trump's numbers are even more brutal than they might seem. Here's more:

  • Only one other president in the past 40 years has had an unfavorable rating higher than 20 percent upon being sworn in. That was George W. Bush, who emerged from a contested 2000 election that went to the Supreme Court and left plenty of hard feelings. His 36 percent unfavorable rating was still just two-thirds of Trump's.
  • The 54 percent of American adults who have an unfavorable opinion of Trump is three times as many as for Obama and Reagan and six times as many as for Carter.
  • His unfavorable rating is higher than Carter's, Reagan's and Obama's combined.

The new Post-ABC poll also tested approval ratings for Trump's transition effort — a slightly different question than personal favorability ratings. And here things actually get slightly worse for Trump:

  • Just 40 percent approve of Trump's transition effort, compared with the 80-plus percent who approved of Obama's, Bill Clinton's and George H.W. Bush's. Fully 72 percent approved of George W. Bush's transition — still 32 points higher than Trump.
  • In each case, even a clear majority of the other party approved of the transition — 62 percent for Obama, 57 percent for George W. Bush, 72 percent for Clinton and 71 percent for George H.W. Bush. Just 11 percent of Democrats approve of Trump's transition.
  • Even among Republicans, approval for Trump's transition is substantially lower — 77 percent, vs. 87 percent or higher for each of his four immediate predecessors.

Trump has already taken to attacking the polls as being unreliable. But national polls were only off by 1 point in the 2016 election, and for Trump to not be the most unpopular president in recent history, they would have to be off by about 20 or 30 points.

Scott Clement contributed to this post.