2017 Trump approval review: lessons from 600,000+ interviews

2017 Trump approval review: lessons from 600,000+ interviews

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating has appeared steady in SurveyMonkey’s tracking surveys in recent weeks, so much so that meaningful trends get lost in the random noise. Meaningful trends do emerge, however, when we roll up the 602,134 interviews we’ve conducted among adults nationwide since February. These data show that show Trump’s numbers -- which had declined steadily for the first half of the year before leveling off -- may have taken a slight turn for the worse in the final weeks of 2017.

For the previous week, SurveyMonkey’s tracking shows 39 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, and 58 percent disapprove. The approval number represents a one percentage point decline from the previous week, though it matches his standing the two weeks prior. The president’s overall approval rating has ranged between 39 and 41 percent since late July, with movement within that range falling well within the usual range of random error for our weekly surveys.

Trump approval tracker as of December 13

Combining the data by month helps to reduce the statistical noise given the massive scale of SurveyMonkey’s ongoing tracking (with sample sizes in excess of 45,000 interviews per month and 36,414 so far in December). Those tabulations show that Trump’s overall approval rating declined steadily in the first half of the year, from 45 percent in February to 40 percent on August, then mostly leveled off. In the first three weeks of December, however, the president’s approval rating has ticked down an additional point, to 39 percent.

Trump approval by month for 2017

Intensity of opinion continues to tell a potentially more important story, though the trend has been essentially the same as overall approval. So far in December, better than twice as many Americans strongly disapprove (47 percent) than strongly approve (21 percent) of the way Trump is handling his job as president. Trump’s strong approval rating fell by six percentage points (from 27 to 21 percent) between February and July and has leveled off since. His strong disapproval rating has been hovering near 46 percent since the summer but ticked up to 47 percent for the first three weeks of December.

Intensity of opinion toward Trump for 2017

Underlying the overall numbers: Four out of five Democrats (81 percent so far in December) strongly disapprove of Trump, compared to just over half of Republicans (54 percent) who strongly approve. That intensity gap mirrored a similar partisan difference in self-reported intent to vote in the recent special elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama, which in turn translated into higher apparent turnout among Democrats than among Republicans.

Trump’s approval rating has shown very strong polarization by partisanship all along, with very little month-to-month variation. Currently, upwards of 80 percent of Republicans and independents who lean to the GOP approve of his performance, compared to single-digit percentages of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents and just under a third of independents who lean to neither party. The declines between February and August are somewhat greater among Republicans and independents, mostly because Trump’s ratings started out so low among Democrats.

Trump approval by party ID for 2017

SurveyMonkey’s very large samples allow us to look more closely at smaller subgroups over time. For example, among the roughly one in five Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who also self-identify as “very conservative,” Trump’s approval rating now (93 percent) has barely moved from where it stood in February (95 percent). The erosion is only slightly greater among the roughly half of Republicans who describe themselves as merely “conservative,” falling from 93 percent in February to between 88 and 90 percent in recent months.

Trump approval decline among moderate Republicans for 2017

The decline has been greater, however, among the roughly 3 in 10 Republicans who describe themselves as moderate or liberal. Their approval of the President declined ten percentage points, from 80 percent in February to lows of 70 percent registered in August, October, and November (but rebounding to 72 percent so far in December).

The greater continuing skepticism of moderate to liberal Republicans is more apparent in the percentages who strongly approve of Trump’s performance. While intense approval fell modestly in the first half of the year among all three groups of Republicans, the contrast between them is strong. So far in December, for example, 78 percent of very conservative Republicans strongly approve of Trump’s performance, compared to just 32 percent of moderate to liberal Republicans.

Republican approval of Trump based on ideology for 2017

Similar patterns emerge among Republicans by age and gender. Throughout 2017, younger Republicans have been more skeptical of Trump than older Republicans, and women more skeptical than men. Strong approval fell with all Republicans by gender and age in the first half of the year. It has rebounded slightly with Republican men, regardless of age, over the past two months.

Trump approval by gender and age for 2017

Thus, currently, 62 percent of Republican men over 45 strongly approve of the President’s performance compared to just 33 percent of Republican women, ages 18 to 44 (Trump’s overall approval is 91 percent with older Republican men, 73 percent with younger Republican women).

One more important trend in the survey data over the past year involves party identification itself. SurveyMonkey does not weight our national surveys by party, so the distribution of self-identified Democrats, Republicans and independents can and will change.  Over the course of 2017, we have seen a slight increase in self-identified independents -- from 36 percent in February to 38 percent over the past three months -- a typical pattern in the year following a presidential elections, when some Americans feel a closer identification to the party of the candidate they support for president. The increase in independent identification since February has resulted in a roughly one percentage point decline in Democrats (from 32 to 31 percent) and a two to three point decline in Republicans (from 29 percent in February to 26 percent so far in December).

Party identification in 2017

The movement away from Republicans relative to Democrats is slightly bigger when we include independents who tell us which party they lean toward.  The share of Republicans and Republican leaners fell from 39 percent to 36 percent in recent months and 35 percent so far in December. The percentage of Democrats and Democratic leaners has either ticked down a point (from 42 percent earlier in the year to 41 percent over the past few months) or not at all (back to 42 percent so far in December).

Independent leaners for 2017

This analysis barely scratches the surface of what is possible with over 600,000 interviews we have conducted in 2017. We have tracked presidential approval and the issue of greatest concern all year long and can tabulate results by combinations of gender, age, race & ethnicity, education, party identification, ideology, self-reported voter registration status and region. Do you have an idea for an interesting cross-tabulation or trend to check? Drop us a line via @MysteryPollster on Twitter or, better yet, use this SurveyMonkey form!

This week’s full approval topline results and a detailed demographic breakdown can be viewed here. Results from previous weeks can be accessed here.

Housekeeping update: Due to the upcoming holidays, we will not publish the weekly approval update next Thursday and hold results until the following week.

Methodology: This week’s SurveyMonkey Tracking poll testing President Trump’s approval rating was conducted online December 14 through December 20, 2017 among a national sample of 10,374 adults. Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Data for this week have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.