USA Politics

One month of Trump: What voters think – and why that matters

Finding the patterns

Approval of Trump is historically low for a new president. But the other side of the coin is that his own voters remain supportive. Given a GOP Congress, that's significant.

President Donald Trump with his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, during a campaign rally on Feb. 18 in Melbourne, Fla. Despite overall approval ratings that are unusually low for the first month in office, polls find Mr. Trump retaining the support of his own voter base.
Chris O'Meara/AP
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After 30 days in office President Trump has done one thing for sure: He’s polarized American voters more than any US chief executive of the last 30 years.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents loathe his performance, per approval polls. But Republicans and Republican leaners remain as happy with Mr. Trump as ever. They’re not swayed by what critics see as chaos in the executive branch.

This is a reminder that most of the people who put Trump in office are content to wait and see how his policies develop. He promised to fix border security, beat ISIS, stamp out crime, drain the D.C. swamp, and give people great health care. Trump supporters want to see if those things happen – or not.

“A whole bunch of people voted for this president, not because they liked him, not because they condoned his behavior, but because they thought that he was going to be able to make a difference. You’re not going to know that in 30 days,” said analyst Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, making this point on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Overall, Trump’s job approval numbers aren’t positive. As of Monday, 44.6 percent of voters approve of what he’s doing as president, according to the RealClearPolitics average of major surveys. His disapproval is 50.5. That nets out to a negative 5.9 percent, an unprecedentedly low rating for someone who’s only been in office a few weeks.

But behind this number is a wide split. Look at the sub-findings of a recent, large Pew Research survey: only eight percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents approve of Trump’s current job performance. That single digit is the lowest such figure in over 30 years, Pew notes.

But Pew’s findings also show that 84 percent of Republicans and Republican-tending independents do approve of the job Trump’s doing. That’s pretty close to the percentage of Republicans who voted for the GOP candidate last November.

The partisan difference there is so large it is almost as if they are looking at two different candidates. And many on both sides say they are set in their views. Fully 75 percent of those polled said they approved or disapproved of Trump “strongly.” That’s a measure that Barack Obama, as president, never matched.

“The intensity of the public’s early views of Trump is striking,” concludes Pew.

What could change such entrenched feelings? In a word, Russia. Upward of seven congressional committees are now investigating some aspect of Russia’s alleged involvement in US politics. Any findings that link Trump or his campaign closer to Moscow, or cast doubt on Trump’s past statements on the matter, could crack his solid GOP support.

Or, on the positive side for Trump, action could make a difference. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and Washington Post blogger/pundit Chris Cillizza don’t agree on a lot. But last week Mr. Limbaugh said on his show that Trump could fix a lot of his current problems by just buckling down and moving ahead full speed on his domestic agenda. Focus on repealing and replacing Obamacare, then passing tax reform, fixing the nation’s infrastructure, etc.

Mr. Cillizza then said that this advice is smart. Since his first week, Trump’s been beset by sideshows and missteps of largely his own making, to mix a couple of metaphors. He’s slowed down. Revving up the legislative gears could keep his base happy and quiet the critics.

“If history is any judge (and with Trump it’s always possible that it’s not), Trump’s presidency will be judged by the state of the economy and how well he is perceived to have achieved the goals he laid out in the course of the 2016 campaign,” Cillizza wrote last week.

And remember that at least for now, Trump needs little if any Democratic cooperation to govern. That’s because Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of Congress. Sure, the congressional GOP could turn against him, and it is entirely possible that Trump might light off an intramural feud with a firecracker tweet. But, as noted above, actual Republican voters remain highly supportive of the president. That’s a big reason why House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have responded in only a muted way to President Trump’s controversial behavior, from his wild press conference of last week to his branding of the media as “enemies of the people.”