I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of the 50% mark for former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden, unlike Hillary Clinton four years ago, is consistently hitting and exceeding 50% in the polls, which means President Donald Trump can’t just count on late deciders to put him over the top.
Trump, on the other hand, has never reached 50% in either his approval rating or against his Democratic opponents in any live interview poll during the last five years.
Now, there is obviously a chance Trump will eventually reach 50% against Biden.
But if this streak continues for Trump, he will be the first president to never reach 50% in any live interview poll in either his first successful campaign for president, approval rating or his reelection bid.
This presidential cycle alone, there have been over 90 live interview national polls since 2019. The highest Trump has gotten in any of these polls against Biden has been 48% of the vote. The average has been 42%.
Compare that with Biden’s average of 50.3%. Biden’s hit 50% in a majority of the polls. Unlike Trump, who has slipped below 40% a number of times, Biden’s never dropped below 40%.
Trump’s inability to hit 50% is nothing new. There have been north of 700 live interview polls that asked about Trump’s approval rating during his presidency. He reached 50% in none of these polls. The closest he’s gotten is 49%. The average has been 40% or 41%, depending on how you count tracking polls. He’s often been below 40%.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Trump’s average approval rating during his presidency is very close to the average support he has earned against Biden in the live interview polls.
You can also go back to Trump’s race against Clinton in 2016. Again, he never hit 50% in any live interview poll conducted during that entire campaign and found himself below 40% many times. Trump ultimately ended up winning the presidency with 46% of the vote nationally and fell short of a majority of the vote in states containing a majority of the electoral votes.
Overall, we’re talking over 1,000 live interview polls measuring Trump’s approval rating or standing against the other party’s major nominee. Trump has failed to reach a majority in any of them.
Not many presidential candidates manage to do that. Even many losers get to 50% at least at some point in some poll. Previous losers who did (such as George McGovern in 1972) almost all lost by wide margins.
The only winning candidate since 1940 to never hit 50% in any horse race poll was Richard Nixon in 1968. The 1968 election, of course, featured the strong third party candidacy of George Wallace.
Unlike Trump, Nixon actually won the popular vote. Further, Nixon would easily meet and exceed 50% in his approval rating and in his reelection matchup against McGovern.
There’s simply no record of any president failing to reach at least 50% once in their approval rating. The majority of presidents actually average at least 50% approval during their first term.
No president I know of who ran for another term didn’t hit at least 50% in one poll at some point against their opponent. This includes even the losers like Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in early 1992 polls against Bill Clinton.
Whether Trump continues to fall short of 50% nationally is still a question mark. One remarkable thing to consider is that Trump’s chances of winning the presidency without winning the popular vote are about equal to his chances of winning a majority of the popular vote.
If Trump manages to win another term in office, there’s a good chance that a majority of Americans still oppose him.