WASHINGTON, D.C. — A slim majority of Americans, 51%, now say they approve of the way Donald Trump is handling the economy. That is up from 45% in June and is his best rating among four issues tested in the latest Gallup poll.
Trump’s economic approval rating in the Sept. 6-10 survey marks the first time he has earned majority approval on any issue Gallup has asked about, including four issues measured in February and 10 in June.
The September poll also finds that 45% of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of North Korea, 41% rate his handling of foreign affairs positively and 39% give him favorable reviews on immigration. His rating on immigration has changed little in recent months, while his foreign affairs rating is up slightly.
Trump’s overall job approval rating has yet to hit the majority approval level, topping out at 46% just after he took office in January. In Gallup Daily tracking, his job approval rating has been below 40% since early July. It has improved slightly over the past two weeks after falling to personal lows the last full week of August. His most recent weekly average approval rating is 37%, based on Sept. 4-11 Gallup tracking.
Since Gallup last asked about Trump’s handling of issues in June, the stock market has reached new record highs and economic growth has picked up, while unemployment remains low. Trump appears to be receiving credit for these positive economic developments, evidenced by his 91% approval rating on the economy among Republicans, 48% among independents and 15% among Democrats. Each of those partisan approval ratings for his economic performance is significantly higher than his overall job approval rating among the same groups.
Trump’s Economic Approval Better Than Most Recent Presidents’
Trump’s economic approval rating eight months into office compares favorably with those of other recent presidents. It is better than the ratings Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had at similar points in their presidencies, but lower than George W. Bush’s. (Gallup did not measure George H.W. Bush’s handling of the economy in the late summer or early fall of 1989.)
The younger Bush’s high economic rating largely reflects the post-9/11 rally in support for him. Gallup’s last rating of Bush’s handling of the economy before 9/11– in July 2001 — was 54%.
Unlike Trump and the younger Bush, Reagan, Clinton and Obama came into office during challenging economic times. Nevertheless, each enjoyed relatively high economic approval ratings prior to the eight-month mark, during the honeymoon phases of their presidencies. This included 60% approval for Reagan’s handling of the economy in April 1981, 49% for Clinton in March 1993 and 59% for Obama in February 2009. However, these approval ratings quickly waned, falling 10 or more percentage points by the late summer or early fall of their first year in office.
Gallup has asked Americans to assess presidents’ handling of the economy periodically since 1971, including more frequent updates beginning with Reagan’s presidency. Clinton has the record-high economic approval rating of 81% in 1999. The elder Bush has the record low of 17% in 1992. The average rating is 43%.
Trump’s Foreign Affairs Rating Worse Than Other Presidents’
While Trump’s rating for his handling of the economy compares favorably with those of other recent presidents, his 41% approval rating for handling foreign affairs is the lowest among this group. George W. Bush’s 81% rating for handling foreign affairs shortly after 9/11 is the best for any recent president roughly eight months into his presidency. Reagan and Obama had approval ratings above the majority level, while Clinton’s was slightly below it.
In contrast to the current situation for Trump, presidents generally tend to receive higher ratings for handling foreign affairs than for handling the economy. The average foreign affairs approval rating for presidents since 1974 is 50%, including a high of 84% for the elder Bush in 1991 after the U.S. won the Persian Gulf War. The record-low rating of 29%, held by the younger Bush, was recorded in August 2007 — four years into the Iraq War and before Americans saw the “surge” in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq as working.
Trump’s job approval ratings generally have been poor, but evaluations of his handling of the economy are a relative bright spot for him. Buoyed by many positive economic reports, and perhaps Americans’ belief that the former businessman would handle the economy well as president, a majority of U.S. adults now approve of Trump’s economic stewardship. Trump’s overall ratings, then, may be held down by his lower ratings on other issues, including foreign affairs and immigration, as well as fundamental concerns about his character. Indeed, perceptions of Trump’s character have gotten worse since he took office.
Thus, as Trump serves out the remainder of his first term, his ability to win re-election may depend most on Americans being willing to overlook their continued concerns about his personal qualities. Doing so may be easier if in 2020 Americans regard the state of the economy, and the nation more generally, as very strong.