USA Politics First Look

Trump to enter office as least popular president in 40 years

No prior US president, stretching back at least four decades, has arrived on his Inauguration Day with less support.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during the presidential inaugural Chairman's Global Dinner on Jan. 17 in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP
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US President-elect Donald Trump is headed to the White House with the ignominious recognition as the least popular incoming president in generations.

Only 40 percent of Americans view Mr. Trump favorably, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last week and published Wednesday morning. No prior US president, stretching back at least four decades, has arrived on his Inauguration Day with less support. This suggests that, unlike his predecessors, Trump has failed during his post-election transition period to convince the public that he will mend the rifts that formed during and before his campaign.

Asked specifically about Trump's transition, 40 percent of respondents said they approve and 54 percent said they disapprove. By contrast, about 80 percent of Americans approved of the transition performances of President Obama in 2009 and former President George H.W. Bush in 1989, as The Washington Post reported. About 70 percent approved of former President George W. Bush's transition in 2001, following a contentious ballot recount.

Even as Mr. Obama prepares to hand power Friday over to Trump – a man who challenged the legitimacy of Obama's presidency by claiming without evidence that Obama was not a natural-born citizen and who ran a campaign last year as a referendum on the past eight years of Obama's policymaking – the outgoing president retains a favorability rating of 61 percent.

A separate CNN/ORC poll similarly found that Obama has a 60 percent approval rating. That ranks him among the top approval ratings of an exiting president in modern history, alongside former President Reagan, who left office at 64 percent approval, and former President Bill Clinton, who had 66 percent, as The Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday.

Obama's successor, meanwhile, lags with an approval rating of 40 percent, according to the CNN/ORC poll – but Trump rejected the data as bogus.

"The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls," Trump wrote in a tweet Tuesday morning. "They are rigged just like before."

Trump won the presidency by winning the Electoral College even though his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, carried the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes more. Trump has claimed, without evidence, that he actually "won" the popular vote as well, "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally" for Mrs. Clinton. And he has a history of embracing facts and polls that favor him while seeking to delegitimize those that cast him in an unfavorable light.

When the Washington Post-ABC News polling numbers were published the week before the election, for instance, Trump cited the news in a tweet, highlighting the fact that they showed Trump with a 1 percentage-point lead over Clinton.

Obama, who has tweeted in the past from his accounts @BarackObama and @POTUS, did not comment on the latest polls via Twitter.

In the weeks following his surprise victory, Trump saw a bump in his approval ratings – 46 percent of voters viewed him favorably, up 9 points from before the election, according to nonpartisan survey group Morning Consult, as the Monitor reported.

But analysts noted that such an improvement is common. Adam Berinsky, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's political experiments research lab, called it the "honeymoon period." Now that two polls have shown a significant cooling-off, the honeymoon could be over.