Donald Trump's Approval Rating Is Better Than Bill Clinton's at This Point in His First Term

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Donald Trump shows a book to then-President Bill Clinton at a fundraiser in New York on June 16, 2000. William J. Clinton Presidential Library/Handout via Reuters

President Donald Trump is by no means popular—compared with his predecessors, his approval rating has been remarkably low during his time in the White House. But there's some small solace for the president this week: His approval rating is, at least for the moment, a hair better than where President Bill Clinton stood at the same point in his first term.

Different polling outfits put Trump at varying levels of approval, but the RealClearPolitics average had him at 39.8 percent Tuesday, while the weighted average from FiveThirtyEight had him at exactly 39 percent. Not great numbers, but still better than Clinton. On Day 138 of his presidency, just 37.8 percent of Americans approved of the job he was doing, according to FiveThirtyEight.

If you compare where each president stood at this point in the Gallup tracking poll, however, the two are deadlocked. The most recent Gallup survey pegged Trump's approval at 37 percent, the exact same figure the polling company found for Clinton in early June 1993. Trump's disapproval rating in the survey was far higher, however, outpacing Clinton at 57 percent to 49 percent. 

A number of factors were blamed for Clinton's low approval at the time. The economy wasn't exactly humming along. There were the beginnings of an ethics controversy over the White House travel office. Clinton also allowed gay people to serve in the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that angered people, both for allowing gay people to serve and for not treating gay people equally. 

"I never expected that I could take on some of these interests that I've taken on without being attacked," Clinton said about the approval polls at the time. "And whenever you try to change things, there are always people there ready to point out the pain of change without the promise of it, and that's just all part of it. If I worried about the poll ratings, I'd never get anything done here."

Clinton's numbers soon turned around, and by the end of June, Gallup had him in the mid-40s. By the time he left office, 66 percent of the country approved of him.

Trump, meanwhile, has seen his approval rating decline steadily since he moved into the White House. The FBI investigation into his campaign's possible ties to Russia—which, the U.S. intelligence community says, worked to get Trump elected—certainly hasn't helped the president's popularity.

A major event involving that controversy is scheduled for Thursday, when former FBI Directory James Comey—whom Trump fired—is expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Comey will almost certainly address a conversation with Trump during which the president reportedly urged him to end the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. 

Polls, meanwhile, have shown that voters are concerned about the Russia investigation—and how Trump has handled it. Meaning that it seems likely the president could trail Clinton again soon.