Amid the tumult of the Trump era, the constant: His approval rating

Halfway through the Oscar-winning documentary "Free Solo," rock climber Alex Honnold enters an MRI machine to see if something is wrong with his brain. His passion, and career, is climbing up impossibly dangerous rock formations, often doing so without a rope. He is preparing for the achievement of a lifetime, to be the first person to “free solo” El Capitan, a slab of granite over half a mile tall in Yosemite National Park. He will be thousands of feet in the air, clinging to the sheer rock face with nothing but his bare hands, something even Honnold’s highly-trained climbing pals think is absolute madness.

When Honnold confers with the doctor once the scan is complete, they review how his brain responds when he is shown a set of images intended to invoke a strong emotional reaction. While an average person’s brain’s amygdala would be lighting up in response to images of blood or gore or terror, Honnold’s does not. The doctor posits that it must take a much higher dose of intense stimuli to cause Honnold to have a reaction at all.

Turn on the news and you’ll no doubt be exposed to some intense stimuli yourself these days. The joke is that “every week is infrastructure week,” where the humdrum work of governing is constantly being disrupted by the latest scandal or saga or controversy or crisis. There’s an outcry that we are edging toward a “new normal” where each day brings fresh outrage that pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable and blows up existing norms.

And yet, like Honnold’s serene MRI images, the president’s job approval sits stable and quiet even in the face of chaos. On average, the percentage of Americans approving of the job President Trump is doing trades within a narrow band, ranging from the high 30s to the mid-40s. The day Trump took office, about 44% of Americans approved of the job he was doing. Today? Some 44% approve of the job Trump is doing.

Trumps’ job approval numbers slid from 44 to around 37% toward the end of his first year in office, but recovered and have hovered in the low 40s ever since. Compare this to past presidencies; Bill Clinton’s job approval wavered between 40 and the high 60s, George W. Bush was in the 60s a year after 9/11 and fell all the way to below 30 at the end of his term, and even Barack Obama ranged between the low 40s and the mid 50s in the Real Clear Politics averages.
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