Donald Trump, who got 46 percent of the popular vote, was the least-liked major party nominee in modern history and the first candidate to win the electoral college despite a majority of Americans holding an unfavorable view of him since pollsters began asking the question. He now enters office with the lowest approval rating in modern history.
Nevertheless, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, Trump is likely to enact a massive overhaul to the federal government, perhaps the most sweeping changes since the New Deal. Based on the stated policy platforms of Trump and GOP congressional leaders, this will mean giant tax cuts for the rich, cuts to safety net funding for the poor, eliminating the health care coverage for millions of Americans, undoing Medicare as we know it, deregulation on Wall Street, undoing labor and consumer protections, an end to efforts to combat climate change, and much more. It’s a hideously unpopular agenda. But elections have consequences and here we are.
Matthew Yglesias at Vox, citing the polls above, notes that Trump’s transition thus far is the most unpopular ever recorded but predicts that he’s going to plow ahead anyways:
Combine Trump’s low ratings with the fact that the GOP lost seats in both the House and the Senate, and the Republican Party is basically limping into office in terms of public opinion. And yet despite all that, they are situated to enact sweeping change on a much larger scale than anyone else on the list except perhaps Obama. Their party holds majorities in both the House and the Senate, and, thanks to a very friendly map, they have little reason to fear losing control in 2018 even if most Americans disapprove of their conduct.
Trump benefited during the election from the fact that Hillary Clinton was also unpopular, though not as horrifically unpopular as he was. But now Clinton is out of the picture, and we’re in unprecedented territory with a president entering office so loathed by the American people.
The chart above, from fivethirtyeight, shows post-election favorability ratings. He’ll likely get a bump as he gets closer to inauguration, but it starkly depicts how much of an outlier Trump is heading to the White House. Harry Enten at fivethirtyeight argues that this hole could give Trump trouble as he tries to enact his agenda:
But make no mistake: Trump’s in a deep hole, and his atypical personality may make it difficult to climb out. Even a 20-point bump from Trump’s current net favorability rating to his first net approval rating would leave him with an opening net approval rating of +7 percentage points. That’s not only lower than any of the presidents studied here, it would be the lowest first net job-approval rating for any president since at least 1941, when Franklin Roosevelt entered his third term.
Trump will probably be hampered at least a little bit by his lack of popularity at the beginning of his term. He didn’t really defy his favorability rating during the presidential election, so there’s no reason to think he’ll be able to escape the normal effects of approval ratings. The more popular he is, the more likely he’ll be to have legislative success. Without popular support, however, he’ll likely encounter more pushback.
My view is that Congressional Republicans see this as their big shot for the radical overhaul of the federal government that they’ve been dreaming of for a very long time — and they’re going to proceed with their agenda, whether the majority of the American people like it or not.