December 8, 2016

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

Growing numbers see ‘strong’ partisan and racial conflicts

Low approval ratings for Trump's transitionNearly a month after Donald Trump’s election as president, the public views his transition to the White House less positively than those of past presidents-elect. And while expectations for Trump’s presidency have improved since before his victory, about as many Americans say Trump will be a poor or terrible president as a good or great one.

The latest national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Nov. 30-Dec. 5 among 1,502 adults, finds that 40% approve of Trump’s cabinet choices and high-level appointments, while 41% approve of the job he has done so far in explaining his policies and plans for the future.

In December 2008, 71% of Americans approved of Barack Obama’s cabinet choices, and 58% expressed positive views of George W. Bush’s high-level appointments in January 2001, prior to his inauguration. Similarly, higher shares approved of the way that both Obama (72%) and Bush (50%) explained their policies and plans for the future than say that about Trump today.

Overall, 35% of Americans think Trump will be a good or great president; 18% say he will be average, while 38% say he will be poor or terrible. However, these assessments are far more positive than they were throughout the campaign: In October, just 25% of the public said Trump would make a good or great president, while 57% said he would be poor or terrible.

Republicans express more positive views of a Trump presidency than they did in October, while Democrats have less negative expectations. Two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (67%) now say Trump will be a good or great president; in October, fewer (54%) Republicans said this.

In October, 89% of Democrats and Democratic leaners thought Trump would make a poor or terrible president, with 74% calling him terrible. Today, 64% of Democrats view his prospective presidency negatively, with 45% saying he will be terrible.

Republicans, Democrats want Trump to be ‘more cautious’ in the White HouseHowever, many of the same doubts and concerns that voters expressed about Trump’s qualifications and temperament during the campaign are evident as he prepares to take office. Just 37% of the public views Trump as well-qualified; 32% of registered voters described Trump as well-qualified in October. Majorities continue to say Trump is reckless (65%) and has poor judgment (62%), while 68% describe him as “hard to like.”

In addition, more than half of the public (54%) says that Trump has done too little to distance himself from “white nationalist groups” who support him, while 31% say he has done the right amount to distance himself from such groups; 6% say he has done too much in this regard.

There also is broad public agreement that the president-elect will need to be more cautious in expressing his views once he takes office. About eight-in-ten Americans (82%) – including large majorities of Republicans and (76%) and Democrats (90%) – say that once he takes office, Trump “will need to be more cautious about the kinds of things he says and tweets.” Just 15% of the public says there is no need for Trump to change the kinds of things he says and tweets.

In the aftermath of a deeply divisive campaign, majorities of Americans say there are “strong” conflicts between many groups in society – between Republicans and Democrats, the rich and poor, and blacks and whites, as well as between immigrants and people born in the United States.

Fully 85% say there are either “very strong” (56%) or “strong” (29%) conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, while 66% say there are very strong or strong conflicts between blacks and whites and 63% say the same about the rich and poor. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) think there are strong conflicts between immigrants and the native-born.

Four-in-ten think there are very strong or strong conflicts between the young and old and between people who live in cities and people in rural areas; 37% see strong conflicts between college graduates and those who did not attend college.

Four years ago, most Americans also said there were strong conflicts between partisans, but the share saying there are very strong conflicts between Republicans and Democrats has increased from 47% to 56%.

Perceptions of strong conflicts between racial and age groups have risen sharply since 2012. Currently, 26% say there are very strong conflicts between blacks and whites, while 40% perceive strong conflicts; four years ago, just 11% saw very strong conflicts between the races and 28% said there were strong conflicts. The share saying there are at least strong conflicts between young people and older people also has increased 11 percentage points since 2012, from 29% to 40%.

Across party lines, growing shares say there are strong conflicts between racial, age groupsThe belief that there are strong racial and age conflicts in this country has increased across partisan lines. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats (73%) currently say there are very strong or strong conflicts between blacks and whites, up from just 41% four years ago. Over the same period, the share of Republicans saying this has risen from 36% to 59%.

Similarly, the share of Democrats who say there are at least strong conflicts between young people and older adults has risen 14 percentage points since 2012 (from 30% to 44%), while increasing 11 points among Republicans (26% to 37%).

The survey also finds that substantial numbers of Americans think there is discrimination against several groups in society – especially against Muslims. A majority of the public (57%) says there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in this country, while 25% say there is some discrimination; just 16% say there is only a little or no discrimination at all against Muslims.

Majorities also say there is a lot or some discrimination against gays and lesbians (43% a lot, 33% some), blacks (41% a lot, 35% some), Hispanics (32% a lot, 38% some) and women (23% a lot, 37% some).

The shares saying there is “a lot” of discrimination against Muslims and blacks have increased since 2013. At that time, when asked a somewhat different version of the question, 45% said there was a lot of discrimination against Muslim Americans; today, 57% see a lot of discrimination against Muslims in society.

In addition, a much larger share perceives a lot of discrimination against blacks today (41%) than said this against African Americans in 2013 (22%). And the number saying there is a lot of discrimination against women has risen eight percentage points over this period (from 15% to 23%).

There are wide partisan differences in the perceptions of discrimination against most groups. For instance, while majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say blacks face at least some discrimination, just 20% of Republicans and Republican leaners say blacks face a lot of discrimination, compared with 57% of Democrats and Democratic leaners who say the same.

Democrats also are more likely than Republicans to say there is at least some discrimination against women (75% vs. 43%).

By contrast, while half of Republicans see at least some discrimination against evangelical Christians, just a third of Democrats do so. And while 49% of Republicans say there is at least some discrimination against whites in the U.S., only 29% of Democrats say the same.

Public divided on the ACA, many unaware of proposed Medicare changes

The public is divided over the Affordable Care Act – and divided over whether it should be repealed or expanded. While views of the law have changed only modestly in recent years, predictions about the law’s fate have shifted dramatically.

Currently, 53% expect the law’s major provisions to be eliminated, while just 39% expect them to be maintained. Last year and in 2014, more predicted that the ACA’s major provisions would be maintained than eliminated. (For more, see how partisans view the ACA)

A second major issue likely to be considered by the 115th Congress – possible changes to Medicare – has not resonated widely with the public. Overall, only about half of the public (51%) has heard a lot (12%) or a little (39%) about a proposal to change Medicare to a program that would give future participants a credit toward purchasing private health insurance. About as many either have heard nothing (48%) or don’t know (1%).

Those who have heard about possible changes to Medicare oppose these changes by a wide margin. Among the small share of Americans who have heard a lot about the proposal, two-thirds (67%) oppose it, while just 32% favor it. Opinion is divided among the much larger group who have heard little or nothing about the proposal (41% favor, 40% oppose, 19% don’t know).

Other important findings

Republicans less likely to say Clinton won popular vote. Most Americans know that Trump won the most electoral college votes (78% say this) and that Hillary Clinton won the most individual votes nationwide (72%). While there are only slight partisan differences in awareness of the vote in the electoral college, 81% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say correctly that Clinton won the national popular vote, compared with a smaller majority (68%) of Republicans and Republican leaners.

Confidence in Trump varies, depending on the issue. A majority of the public (60%) says they are very or somewhat confident that Trump will work effectively with Congress, while 52% are confident he will manage the executive branch effectively. Fewer have confidence in him handling an international crisis (45%) or using military force wisely (44%).

Concerns about Trump’s possible conflicts. Most Americans say they are very concerned (45%) or somewhat concerned (20%) that Trump’s relationships with businesses or foreign governments conflict with his ability to serve the country’s best interests. These views are little changed from late October, when 42% of registered voters had a great deal of concern over Trump’s potential conflicts.

Post-election spike in economic optimism – among Republicans. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to view the current state of the economy positively, but Republicans are far more optimistic about the economy’s course over the next year. Fully 75% of Republicans expect the economy to improve over the next year, up from just 29% who said this in June. By contrast, the share of Democrats who expect the economy to get better over the coming year has fallen from 35% to 15%.

Mixed views of Mike Pence. Opinions about Mike Pence are divided – 39% view the vice president-elect favorably, while 42% have an unfavorable opinion. But most Americans (54%) think Pence is qualified to become president if anything happens to Trump; just 30% say he is not qualified. Pence has a very positive image among white evangelical Christians. Two-thirds (67%) view him favorably, and 78% say he is qualified to serve as president.