A “honeymoon period” is a period of popularity enjoyed by a new leader.
Usually, the term refers to an incoming president but it can refer to other high ranking officials as well.
Traditionally, both Congress and news outlets give presidents a bit of a break at the start of their first terms, so that they can ease into the office.
As FiveThirtyEight has noted, incoming presidents tend to be popular – after all, they were just elected by a plurality of Americans.
Researchers have found that this translates into political power early in a president’s first term — especially if they had coattails. A new power enters office with a mandate, and Congress is likely to respect this mandate, at least during the first few months of the first term. This means that a president’s first 100 days in office are the ideal time for them to pass legislation.
Gallup has found the presidential honeymoon period is getting shorter and shorter. By the last few decades of the 20th century, the typical honeymoon period had shrunk to seven months, down from an average of 26 months earlier in American history:
Presidents typically enjoy positive approval ratings during the early stages of their presidencies, commonly known as the “honeymoon period.” Barack Obama is no exception, with ratings that have generally been above 60%. But recent presidents’ honeymoons have typically ended much sooner than those of their predecessors.
Whereas presidents from Harry Truman through Richard Nixon spent an average of 26 months above the historical average 55% presidential job approval rating after they took office, presidents from Gerald Ford to George W. Bush spent an average of just seven months above this norm.
Interestingly, some two-term presidents may actually enjoy two honeymoon periods, benefiting from a bounce in their popularity after being elected to a second term. The Washington Post noted that this had happened to Obama, at least:
President Obama is enjoying a sort of second political honeymoon in the wake of his re-election victory last November with a series of national polls showing his job approval rating climbing from the middling territory where it lagged for much of the last several years… Obama approval is at 52 percent while his disapproval is at 43 percent. That may not seem like much but it marks a significant improvement over where he was for much of 2010 and 2011.
Many pundits claim that President Trump never had any honeymoon at all; the 45th president, they say, faced conflict and criticism from the moment he stepped into office. Opinions are divided as to who carries the blame for that.
The New York Times blamed the president, arguing that he had squandered any good will that should have been coming to him by refusing to go out on the road to rally his followers, as previous presidents had done:
President Trump has become a virtual homebody during his first few months in office, largely sitting out the honeymoon period that other presidents have used to hit the road and rally support for their priorities.
The Miller Center noted that Trump had come into office at a time of unprecedented polarization in the country, and that his party held only a slim majority in the House; as a result, the incoming president faced gridlock in Congress. He had also won a majority of the electoral votes but had failed to win the popular vote, which automatically put him at a disadvantage and diminished his honeymoon period.
Uses of “honeymoon period”
The Guardian (November 30, 2022): “We’ve reached the point where Sunak is almost guaranteed to give the wrong response – the tone deaf response – to any given question. Which is why he’s been dying on his feet at every prime minister’s questions. So much for a new leader getting a honeymoon period in the Commons.”
New York Daily News (December 1, 2022): “Rep. Hakeem Jeffries didn’t get much of a honeymoon period from Republicans after his historic election as Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.”