Melania Trump, Worst First Lady Popularity Rating (Analysis)

Melania Trump, Worst First Lady Popularity Rating (Analysis)

(Citizen Free Press) — Much has been written about President Donald Trump’s historically low popularity ratings while leaving office. But the tarnishing of the Trump brand goes beyond the president.

Melania Trump leaves the White House with the worst popularity rating for any first lady at the end of her term in polling history.

The latest Citizen Free Press poll rated Melania Trump favorably at 42% versus 47% unfavorable. 47% is the highest unfavorable rating we’ve ever recorded for Melania Trump. It is also incredibly tall from a historical perspective.

Traditionally, first ladies are admired almost uniformly. The position is not elected and is usually not controversial. It’s hard to be unpopular.

Take a look at the latest CNN and Gallup polls asking about the popularity of first ladies since Pat Nixon. The average final popularity rating of first ladies before Trump was 71% with an unpopularity rating of 21%. That means the average net popularity rating for these first ladies was +50 points.

Now, the ratings of Nixon, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter were taken before her husband’s last month in office and the popularity questions were asked differently than Trump’s question. Even if we take these first ladies out of the equation, we get a very similar average final score of 70% favorable and 23% unfavorable since Nancy Reagan in 1989.

In fact, the only first lady to leave office with a net popularity rating below +40 points was Hillary Clinton. Her net favorability rating of +13 points (52% favorable and 39% unfavorable) in a January 2001 CNN / Time / Yankelovich Partners poll still easily surpassed Melania Trump’s final rating.

Remember, Clinton, unlike Trump, ran for her seat in the United States Senate during her husband’s final year in the White House and was sworn in several weeks before he left the White House. She was also much more politically active in the White House, helping lead his push for health care reform. In other words, unlike most first ladies, Clinton was to be viewed in a partisan light.

Trump has not been anywhere near being so involved in the day-to-day running of the White House. It’s usually not that visible, at least to most Americans.

In fact, it’s not entirely clear how much Melania Trump‘s low grades have to do with her in particular. Yes, she has had a few moments that erupted on social media and broke tradition (with her husband) by not welcoming the Biden family to the White House.

But Melania Trump’s low grades predate her time in the White House. She has often had relatively low net popularity ratings, dating back to when her husband was running for president in 2016 (she was not well known at the time). It seems that simply being associated with her husband has had a negative impact on her popularity.

As tempting as it is to think that the unpopularity of a husband automatically means that a first lady is also unpopular, this has not been the case historically.

When Richard Nixon was in the middle of the Watergate scandal in August 1973, 83% of Americans rated Pat Nixon +1 or higher on a favorability scale ranging from -5 to +5. Only 13% rated it -1 or worse.

When Jimmy Carter’s approval rating was at a mere 32% in August 1979, Rosalynn Carter’s approval rating stood at 59% versus a disapproval rating of 19%. Carter’s comparison to Trump is especially interesting because Donald Trump’s current approval rating is quite similar to Jimmy Carter’s at that time in his presidency.

Originally, I thought that the low popularity of the current first lady could be due to the increasing polarization in our politics.

Laura Bush, however, showed that even in the modern era, a first lady can be much more popular than her husband. His final favorable rating in a January 2009 CNN / ORC poll was 67% versus 20% unfavorable. George W. Bush’s favorable rating was 35% in the same poll.

In fact, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama (69% favorable rating) finished with above-average popularity ratings for departing first ladies.

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