WASHINGTON — President Trump gets high marks for leadership amid growing economic optimism, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, but questions about his temperament and his tweets have cost him the political boost that a president traditionally gets from that good news.
The survey, taken Wednesday through Sunday, shows Trump getting little bounce from his well-received address to Congress last week or from a brightening view of the country’s direction. Instead, 47% approve of the job he’s doing and 44% disapprove, a bit better than some other recent polls but a poor rating by historic standards. He is the first president in modern times not to score majority approval at this early point in his tenure.
By 2-1, those surveyed disapprove of Trump’s temperament, a much more negative rating than he gets for his policy positions. Six in 10, including 40% of Republicans, complain that he tweets too much.
The findings reinforce the exasperation among Trump allies in Congress and elsewhere that the president’s own actions are complicating and undermining his potential standing, and in the process weakening his political clout and ability to get things done.
“He’s kept all those campaign promises,” Georgiann Johnson, 41, a stay-at-home mom and Trump supporter from Springfield, Ill., said approvingly in a follow-up interview. Times are good for her and her family, now in the process of buying their first home. “I’m way more optimistic about the economy now than I was a year ago,” she said.
But Linda Shaw, 63, a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson who also was among those polled, expresses alarm about Trump’s “level of focus, maturity, the ever-present degree or narcissism and lack of judgment.” She says, “Far from clearing-the-swamp, the swamp is teeming and overflowing, and I have serious concerns about the future of the country if the course continues as it currently is.”
Views of the president are not only polarized but also fiercely held, with a majority of Americans choosing one extreme or the other. Thirty percent not only disapprove of the job the president is doing but “strongly disapprove”; 23% not only approve but “strongly approve.”
The poll of 1,000 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Whatever their views of Trump, Americans feel better about the state of the nation. By 46%-43%, they say the country is headed in the right direction, not off on the wrong track. That’s not exactly euphoria, but it does reflect a 12-point swing toward the bright side compared with the findings of a USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll taken in December.
In about 1,000 national public polls tracked by RealClearPolitics.com since 2009, just one other survey, released last month, has shown a net positive rating on the right direction/wrong track question.
What’s more, 52% say the economy is in a recovery, a majority view rarely seen since the housing crisis and financial meltdown in 2008 spiraled into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
‘It’s so high school’
Good news on the economy typically boosts a president’s popularity. But the feeling that good times are returning doesn’t seem to be rebounding to the benefit of Trump, though 55% of Americans credit him with showing leadership during his first six weeks in office. Even one in five Democrats say he’s shown leadership.
On policy, Americans are split straight down the middle: 46% approve of Trump’s policies; 46% disapprove.
On personality, though, there is a broad and negative consensus. By 60% to 30%, those polled disapprove of Trump’s temperament, and 59% say he tweets too often.
“I think he’s trying to do the best he can, but he better quit that tweeting,” cautions Ray DeHart, 74, a retiree and one-time Democrat from Hillsville, Va., who counts himself as a strong supporter of the president. “It just gives the news media more fuel to fan the fires, as the old saying goes.”
“It’s so high school, or junior high school,” scoffs Rosa Ledesma, 55, from California’s San Fernando Valley.
Just 28% describe his tweets as a good way for him to communicate directly with Americans. One of them was Johnson. “First it was radio and then television and then YouTube,” she shrugs. “He’s just taking it one more step.”
The controversies the president provokes and the battles he wages in 140-character bursts — against everyone from former president Barack Obama to U.S. intelligence agencies to Arnold Schwarzenegger — have defied political norms, distracted from policy initiatives and contributed to the public’s questions about Trump’s temperament.
“If Trump continues to tweet, he should tweet about the economy,” says David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University. “He began with November tweets about how to save taxpayer money on federal purchases and announcing daily moves by companies to relocate plants in America. That served him well. But recently he has veered off tweeting about issues the public disagrees with him on, and that is an opportunity cost preventing him from higher poll points.”
Debate over DREAMers
The bottom line: Trump continues to hold the 46% of the electorate who voted for him on Election Day, but he has failed so far to expand in any meaningful way his support to those who didn’t.
An overwhelming 88% of Republicans approve of the job he’s doing, most of them strongly. But 81% of Democrats oppose him, most of them strongly. Independents are split 44%-42%.
Some of the president’s policy positions align with public opinion.
- On Social Security and Medicare, 72% agree with his promise to protect the programs from cuts. Just 22% say policymakers should take steps to control the entitlement programs for seniors from growing costs, the course that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., long has advocated.
- On the Affordable Care Act, half of those surveyed say it should be repealed but only after a comprehensive plan is ready to take its place; another 17% say it should be repealed as soon as possible. One in four say Congress shouldn’t repeal the health care initiative known as Obamacare.
On other issues, he faces a stark divide or even majority opposition.
- On his budget outline — adding $54 billion to defense and security spending while slashing it from domestic and other programs — Americans split almost evenly: 46% support his plan and 48% oppose it.
- On immigration, those surveyed by 49%-40% oppose his action to accelerate the deportation of illegal immigrants in the United States, even if they haven’t committed a serious crime.
Then there’s the question, still unresolved, of the so-called DREAMers, young people brought to this country illegally as children. Trump has spoken sympathetically about their plight, but he hasn’t ruled out scuttling Obama’s executive action that gave them some protection from deportation. On that issue, 63% say the new president should continue the program; just 22% say he should eliminate their special protections.
Meanwhile, Trump’s attacks on reporters divide Americans: 42% say he is right when he says the news media are unfair and biased against him; 48% say the news media are right when they say they are appropriately holding the White House accountable.
Are the news media “the enemy of the American people” as the president has asserted? One-third of Americans, 34%, agree with him. Fifty-nine percent disagree.
Trump’s combative manner is part of his appeal, says DeHart, his supporter from Virginia. “The first president I can ever remember is Harry Truman, and Harry didn’t take no lip off nobody,” he says. “Sometimes I think that Trump maybe carries it a little bit too far, but by the same token, people know what they can expect out of him.”