President Trump loves breaking records, even when the evidence is dubious, but here’s one he probably doesn’t want to shatter: It is conceivable that he could become the least popular president in modern history.
That record is currently held by Richard Nixon, who resigned with a 24% approval rating. George W. Bush came perilously close to matching that record at 25% in early October of 2008. Trump is in shooting distance—having already reached record unpopularity for a president so early into his first term. He recently dipped to 34% approval, his lowest since taking office, and since then has rebounded just one point, to 35%.
To be sure, political approval can be a rollercoaster. Presidents tend to see a bump in approval during a 9/11-type crisis or the onset of a war. Major legislation, changes in White House personnel or a shift in tone from Trump himself could cause him to rebound. But generally speaking, the historical pattern is for presidents to slowly become less popular in the months after inauguration, and that has held true for Trump.
The question then is: How low could Trump go?
There is a whole cottage industry around parsing polls and a variety of ways to calculate this figure, from back-of-the-envelope math to complex statistical models. In consultation with David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research who runs the site PredictWise, TIME decided to examine the historical lows in presidential approval ratings among respondents of different partisan leanings, back to the Nixon Administration, and apply those figures to the current political environment. (Full disclosure: I worked with Rothschild in…
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