State-Level Variation in Trump Approval Rating Decline

It’s no question that since the start of his presidency, Donald Trump has seen his approval rating drop considerably. Starting out at around a slightly net positive rating, the president’s approval numbers now stand at 39 percent approve and 56 disapprove according to HuffPost Pollster’s tracker. Heterogeneity in this approval decline will likely have some bearing on his and his party’s electoral fortunes. For example, if much of this approval rating drop concentrates among Americans already planning to vote against him, Trump stands to suffer less from these overall trends. If the decline occurs in key parts of his base or the country previously behind him in support, this starts to become more problematic.

As part of hundreds of thousands of survey interviews it has done during the Trump presidency, Morning Consult recently released state-level Trump approval rating data at two time points: in January at the start of Trump’s time in office, and more recently in September. I calculated Trump’s net approval (approve% – disapprove%) at each point to then create state-level net approval change. This ranged from a 31-point drop (in Illinois) to an 11-point drop (Louisiana), with an average decline of 19 points from January to September. I merged this data with 2016 state election vote shares for Trump and Hillary Clinton, from which I calculated Trump’s margin of victory. Using these two pieces of data–Trump election margin and Trump net approval change–I could see where the decline in Trump approval during the first year of his presidency has concentrated most. The below graph shows this, plotting Trump margin against net approval change, with each data point represented by the state’s abbreviation and color corresponding to whether Clinton (blue) or Trump (red) won the state:


As is visually clear, much of Trump’s approval rating decline has occurred in states where he has less underlying support. Average net decline (19 points) is large across the board, but that hides important variation: states with above average decline tend to be ones that Clinton won in 2016, while states that have below average decline (i.e. states that aren’t souring on Trump as quickly) are more likely to have been won by Trump in the election. The relationship is not overwhelmingly strong–the adjusted R-squared is 0.32, and if a regression line was plotted, there would be a lot of variation around that line along different x-values (see CA, MD, and HI in particular as large deviations). Nevertheless, the pattern remains evident, and it suggests Trump has seen his greatest approval rating losses in states where he already had low levels of support–and perhaps where he could most afford to lose support if anywhere. Large overall declines in Trump approval rating will still prove important for shaping future election results, of course, but not as much they would if they occurred evenly across states, for example.

I’ll briefly touch on one other interesting result. In critical “swing states,” which I’ll define here as those where the absolute margin between Clinton and Trump vote shares was less than five percentage points, a roughly even split emerges in terms of pace of approval decline: five of the 11 swing states have soured on Trump at a greater rate than the national average, while the other six have done so at a below average rate. Given the fundamental role these types of states play in deciding national elections, this more even Trump approval decline is important to take note of as well.

State-Level Variation in Trump Approval Rating Decline