Typically, president-elects enjoy a so-called “honeymoon” period in which they see their favorability and approval ratings improve in the months after their election. That phase certainly arrived during the wake of the election, but seems to have already passed as well.
After reaching about as high as a net -5 favorability rating, Trump’s favorability rating has steadily dropped ever since the final week of December. Here’s how the course of his net favorability rating looks since Election Day:
It hasn’t been a massive dropoff by any means, but the incoming president’s net rating has now sunken below -10. By some accounts, Trump will assume the office of the presidency as the least-liked commander-in-chief in the recorded history of this type of data. His favorability rating is now lower than it was on Election Day.
Examining Trump’s favorable and unfavorable percentages individually (and not combined in a net rating), as seen above, uncovers another piece of information: though not drastically different, the percentage of people saying they favorably view Trump has dropped more than the percentage saying they unfavorably view Trump has increased. It’s only about a difference of two percentage points since late December, but the movement in Trump’s favorability has more to do with people dropping a favorable perception of him than switching to an unfavorable one.
When one speculates as to why this decline in favorability has occurred, it’s easy and probably correct to point the finger at the cloud of wide-ranging controversies that has followed Trump from during the campaign season and into the pre-inauguration period.
Ties with Russia, other entanglements that could create conflicts of interest, Russia’s role in influencing the election, Cabinet picks and confirmation hearings, and the transition process as a whole represent the most salient negative news and information surrounding Trump that could be driving favorability changes. Plenty of public opinion data has shown low approval of Trump’s transition process, low approval of cabinet choices and appointments, and widespread concern about Trump’s business conflicts of interests, among many other things that could translate to declining favorability once these aspects are thrown into the spotlight. It’s possible that many of the groups that warmed to Trump in the month following the election have now cooled in their subsequent evaluations of the new president.
One other point should also be considered when evaluating this phenomenon–and making sense of how Trump could still win the election: Trump’s favorability differs by polling population type. Among the three groups that appear in pre- (and sometimes post-) election polling–all U.S. adults, registered voters, and likely voters–Trump has received his worst favorability numbers from the country as a whole (all adults). Those numbers then improve as you move to the pool of registered voters, and to likely voters. This trend appeared in mid-December, and has maintained itself a month later: in an average of all 39 post-election polls, Trump has a -8 rating among all adults, -4 rating among registered voters, and -1 rating among likely voters (though keep in mind there were only two polls for the latter category). The entire country viewed Trump more unfavorably than did the slice of Americans that voted, and that split continues to materialize after the election. It avails Trump in elections, when fewer Americans turn out to vote than can express an opinion to pollsters, but hurts him when trying to claim a mandate and support from the American people as a whole.