December 8, 2016

Low Approval of Trump’s Transition but Outlook for His Presidency Improves

1. Views of President-elect Trump and his administration

As Donald Trump prepares to take office as the nation’s 45th president, 55% of the public says that, so far, they disapprove of the job he has done explaining his policies and plans for the future, while 41% approve of the job he has done.

Trump’s rating for the job he has done so far presenting his vision to the public is lower than those other recent presidents received following their elections.

In December 2008, 72% said they approved of the job then President-elect Obama had done explaining his plans and policies for the future. And in the wake of the disputed 2000 election, 50% said they approved of the job George W. Bush had done explaining his plans and policies. In early 1989 and 1993, the public gave both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton positive ratings for how they had communicated their future plans for the country: 62% approved of Clinton, and 65% approved of Bush (this measure for George H. W. Bush is from March 1989, after he took office).

The partisan gap in ratings of the job Trump has done so far is wider than it has been for any prospective president dating to the 1988 election.

About eight-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (79%) say they approve of the job Trump has done explaining his policies and plans for the future to the American people; just 15% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the same. The 64-percentage point gap between the ratings offered by Republicans and Democrats is larger than the 44-percentage point gap in early reactions to Obama measured in December 2008 and the 48-percentage point gap in reactions to Bush measured in January 2001. The current gap is driven in part by very low rating among Democrats: the 15% who approve of Trump’s early approach is lower than any rating given to a new president-elect by members of the losing party in recent elections (including the 29% of Democrats who approved of how Bush laid out his vision in January 2001).

Trump also receives low marks for his initial cabinet choices and other high level appointments. By 51% to 40%, more say they disapprove than approve of the cabinet choices and appointments Trump has made so far. In contrast, majorities approved of the choices made by the past four president-elects. In fact, approval ratings for Trump’s cabinet choices are 18 points lower than for the next lowest-rated president-elect.

Eight-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners say they approve of Trump’s cabinet choices and other high level appointments. By contrast, just 11% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say they approve of these selections. Ratings among Democrats today are far lower than the 49% of Republicans who said they approved of Obama’s initial cabinet choices in December 2008 and the 44% of Democrats who said the approved of Bush’s selections in January 2001.

What kind of president will Trump be?

Overall, 35% say they think Trump will be a great (14%) or good (22%) president, while about as many (38%) think he will be either poor (13%) or terrible (25%); 18% say they think he will make an average president.

While current ratings are mixed, they are more positive than assessments of Trump as a possible president prior to his election victory. Throughout the campaign, majorities said they thought Trump would be either a poor or terrible president, including 57% who said this in late October.

Expectations for Trump as president have improved in part because Democrats are now much less likely to say they expect him to make a poor or terrible president than they were during the campaign – in particular, the share expecting him to be a terrible president has decreased since before the election.

In October, nearly nine-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (89%) said they thought Trump would make a poor or terrible president. Although a majority of Democrats still say this, that share has fallen sharply to 64% in the current survey. And while a plurality of Democrats continues to say he will be a terrible president, that share has declined from 74% in October to 45% today.

At the same time, there has been an uptick in the share of Republicans and Democrats who think Trump will make a great or good president. Two-thirds (67%) of Republicans and Republican leaners think Trump will make at least a good president (up from 54% in October). Few Democrats and Democratic leaners think Trump will make a great or good president (11%), but the share who say this is up 8 points since October.

Confidence in Trump to handle aspects of the presidency

The public is confident in Trump’s ability to work with Congress, and about half are confident that he will manage the executive branch effectively; but there are doubts about Trump in other areas, including his ability to prevent major scandals in his administration and use military force wisely.

Six-in-ten say they are either very (26%) or somewhat (35%) confident in Trump’s ability to work with Congress. When it comes managing the executive branch effectively, 52% say they are either very or somewhat confident in Trump’s ability to do this.

By contrast, fewer than half say they are very or somewhat confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis (45%), use military force wisely (44%) or prevent major scandals in his administration (44%).

Not surprisingly, Republicans express confidence in Trump’s ability to handle different aspects of the presidency, while Democrats say they are not confident in Trump’s ability.

Republicans and Republican leaners are broadly confident in Trump’s ability to work effectively with Congress (88%), to use military force wisely (84%) and to manage the executive branch effectively (84%). Large shares also are confident in his ability to handle an international crisis (79%) and prevent major scandals in his administration (77%), though slightly fewer Republicans express confidence in Trump in these areas than in his ability to work with Congress.

Democrats are broadly skeptical of Trump’s abilities. Only about two-in-ten are confident in his ability to handle an international crisis (21%), prevent major scandals in his administration (20%) or use military force wisely (18%). Somewhat more (29%) are confident that Trump can manage the executive branch effectively. Democrats express the most confidence in Trump when it comes to his ability to work with Congress: Still, just 40% say they are very or somewhat confident that he can work effectively with Congress.

1_7altThe public expresses less confidence in Trump’s ability to handle different aspects of the presidency than they did in George W. Bush, before he took office in 2001.

At least seven-in-ten said they were very or somewhat confident in Bush’s ability to handle aspects of the job in January 2001. Compared with assessments of Bush, the public is significantly less likely to say they are confident in Trump’s ability to use military force wisely (34 points lower than ratings of Bush), prevent major scandals in his administration (33 points lower), handle an international crisis (26 points lower), manage the executive branch effectively (25 points lower) and work effectively with Congress (14 points lower).

Low personal favorability ratings for Trump

Alongside negative ratings for the job Trump has done explaining his plans and selecting his cabinet so far, most also hold an overall unfavorable view of the president-elect.

Roughly six-in-ten (58%) say they have either a very (38%) or mostly (20%) unfavorable view of Trump, compared with 37% who hold a very (14%) or mostly (23%) favorable view of him.

By wide margins, the public held favorable views of other recent president-elects. In the weeks before each took office, 79% had a favorable view of Obama, 60% had a favorable view of George W. Bush and 66% had a favorable view of Bill Clinton.

About eight-in-ten Republicans (78%) hold a favorable view of Trump. Views among Democrats are highly negative: 87% say they hold an unfavorable view of the president-elect.

Older adults hold a much more favorable view of Trump than younger adults. By 54% to 42%, more of those ages 65 and older rate Trump favorably than unfavorably. Views are about evenly divided among those ages 50-64 (47% favorable, 49% unfavorable). Large majorities of those 18-29 (73%) and 30-49 (65%) hold an unfavorable view of Trump.

Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) of those with a postgraduate degree view Trump unfavorably, as do 62% of those with a college degree. On balance, those without a college degree also view Trump unfavorably, though by somewhat smaller margins.

Among whites who have not graduated from college, more hold a favorable (52%) than unfavorable (43%) view of Trump. By contrast, whites with a college degree view Trump more unfavorably than favorably by almost two-to-one (63%-33%).

There is an age gap among Republicans and Republican leaners in views of Trump: 89% of Republicans age 50 and older view Trump favorably, compared with a smaller majority (62%) of Republicans ages 18-49. Democrats and Democratic leaners hold broadly unfavorable views of Trump across age cohorts.

Views of Donald Trump’s traits and characteristics

Donald Trump’s low overall favorability rating is reflected in the public’s assessments of his traits and characteristics.

While most (60%) call him patriotic, majorities also describe him as hard to like (68%), reckless (65%) and as having poor judgment (62%).

About half (52%) call Trump a strong leader, but the public is less likely to assign other positive characteristics to him. Fewer than half describe Trump as honest (41%), inspiring (41%) or well-qualified (37%). Only about three-in-ten call him moral (31%) and just 26% say that he is a good role model.

These views are little changed from October, when comparable shares of registered voters ascribed these characteristics to Trump before the election.

Large majorities of Republicans and Republican leaners say Trump is patriotic (89%), a strong leader (80%), well-qualified (75%), honest (73%) and inspiring (70%). Six-in-ten describe him as moral. Republicans are more closely divided over whether Trump is a good role model: 52% say that he is, while 42% say that he is not.

Overall, 36% of Republicans and Republican leaners describe Trump as reckless and 34% say he has poor judgment; majorities of Republicans say these two traits do not describe him. However, Republicans are divided over whether Trump is hard to like: 49% say he is, compared with 50% who say he is not.

Democrats and Democratic leaners are largely critical in their assessments of Trump’s traits and characteristics. Fewer than half say that Trump is patriotic (42%) and just 28% say that he is a strong leader. Fewer than two-in-ten say any other positive characteristic included in the survey describes Trump.

At the same time, large majorities of Democrats say that Trump has poor judgment (87%), is reckless (87%) and is hard to like (85%).

Most say Trump has done too little in distancing from white nationalists

In response to controversial support Trump received during the campaign from some white nationalist groups, 54% of Americans say he has done too little to distance himself from these groups. Fewer (31%) say he has done about the right amount to distance himself from white nationalist groups, while just 6% say he has done too much.

Fully 75% of Democrats say that Trump has done too little to distance himself from white nationalist groups. Most Republicans (57%) say he has done about the right amount to distance himself from the support he received from some white nationalist groups; 31% of Republicans say he has done too little.

Across age groups, those ages 18-29 are the most likely to say Trump has not done enough to distance himself from white nationalist groups: 68% of those under 30 say this, compared with 55% of those ages 30-49, 50% of those 50-64 and 44% of those ages 65 and older.

Those with higher levels of education are more likely than those with lower levels to say Trump has not done enough to distance himself from white nationalist groups. For example, 73% of postgraduates say this compared with 47% of those with no college experience.

Among whites, college graduates are more likely to say Trump has not done enough to distance himself from white nationalists groups (64%) than to say he has done about the right amount (28%). Among whites who have not graduated from college, about as many say Trump has not done enough (46%) as say he has done about the right amount (43%).

Concerns about Trump and conflicts of interest

A majority of the public says they are concerned that Trump has relationships with organizations, businesses or foreign governments that conflict with his ability to serve the country’s best interests.

Overall, 65% say they are either very (45%) or somewhat (20%) concerned that Trump’s ties to groups conflict with his ability to serve the country’s best interests; 34% say they are not too (14%) or not at all (20%) concerned about this.

Democrats are far more likely to express concern on this issue than Republicans. Seven-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners say they are very concerned that Trump’s relationships could conflict with his ability to serve the country’s best interests; an additional 22% are somewhat concerned.

By contrast, most Republicans and Republican leaners (68%) say they are not too (27%) or not at all (41%) concerned about Trump’s ties. About three-in-ten (31%) are at least somewhat concerned that Trump’s relationships conflict with his ability to serve.

Among Republicans, those ages 18-49 are about twice as likely as those 50 and older to say they are at least somewhat concerned that Trump’s relationships conflict with his ability to serve the country’s best interests (46% vs. 21%).

Views of the role Trump’s adult children will play in administration

After playing a prominent role in his general election campaign, the public has mixed views on how much influence Trump’s adult children will have within his administration. Overall, 39% say they will have too much influence, while an identical 39% say they will have about the right amount of influence. Relatively few (15%) say that Trump’s adult children will have too little influence on his administration.

Two-thirds of Republicans and Republican leaners (66%) say Trump’s adult children will have about the right amount of influence in his administration. By contrast, 59% of Democrats and Democratic leaners think they will have too much influence.

Among Democrats, college graduates are much more likely than those with no college degree to say that Trump’s adult children will have too much influence in his administration (81% vs. 47%). Among Republicans, there is little difference in views on this question across levels of education.