Trump at the Precipice: The 39-Point Tipping Point

The scandals swirling around President Trump seem to have no end and have undoubtedly taken their toll. Both Democrats and pundits have already begun talking about impeachment, although these discussions are highly caveated at this point. This leaves us asking: is President Trump truly in political danger as many believe?

This question can be addressed in a number of ways.  As a professional pollster, my bias is towards electability: at what point does Trump become electorally less than desirable? As an incumbent, Trump has an advantage for reelection. But at a certain point, Trump’s approval rating will be so low, his odds of reelection will be worse than a coin flip.

So, where does Trump stand today and how electorally viable is he?

Approval ratings are the most important metric in assessing electoral chances (Ipsos Ideas Spotlight).  The higher the approval ratings, the greater the likelihood of an electoral victory. We can put this into context by looking at the chances of a sitting president to win at varying approval levels.


Our analysis shows that a 39-point approval rating is the tipping point for a sitting president.  Below this level, they have less than a 50/50 chance of winning and their relative chances quickly decline after that.

Qualitatively speaking, this makes intuitive sense.  When presidents slip into approval ratings in the 30s, they are less than desirable.  Even political allies are less likely to hitch their political wagons to a government with that low of approval.

President Trump is dangerously close to this political cliff.  Indeed, both Huffington Post’s Pollster.com and RealClear Politics have him at 40% approval (Pollster.com & RealClear Politics).  And our own polling has president Trump’s approval at 37% (Reuters Polling Explorer).

Now, conditions can change.  Indeed, good news on the economic front coupled with a softening of the various scandals could lift Trump’s approval ratings.  In my opinion, approval ratings in the 40s are a political safe zone.

That said, such optimism should be seriously tempered.  All presidencies have a natural decay function when it comes to approval ratings as the cold hard realities of governing chip away at a government’s electoral coalition.  Specifically, our own modeling suggests that, independent of scandal, President Trump’s approval number will most likely be somewhere in the mid to high 30’s (range 35-38) by the end of the year.

Of course, much can change between now and then, but it is not an overstatement to say that Trump is seriously close to the precipice.