This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on February 7, 2017
Two things seem abundantly clear right now. First, President Trump’s agenda and priorities are exactly what he laid out in his boisterous campaign. No one should be surprised by what he is doing. Second, the divisions over Candidate Trump mirror the perceptions of President Trump. Despite the controversies of his early days in office, his backers have mainly held fast.
Trump lost the national popular vote by 2 percentage points, 48 to 46 percent. Polling last week suggests there has been a little deterioration for him, but not that much. The Feb. 1-2 CBS News poll shows Trump with a 40 percent approval rating, down 6 points from his election performance, with 48 percent expressing disapproval (the same percentage who voted for Hillary Clinton). The Gallup Organization’s tracking poll for Feb. 3-5 put Trump’s approval rating at 42 percent and disapproval at 52 percent. The Jan. 31-Feb. 2 CNN/ORC poll put Trump’s approval a touch higher at 44 percent, with the disapproval also higher at 53 percent. The average of the three polls puts Trump’s approval rating at 42 percent, with 51 percent disapproving, which comes to a net minus-9.
It’s the internal numbers that create the echo of last year. The CBS poll showed 84 percent of Republicans approving of Trump’s performance so far, with 8 percent disapproving, while it was precisely the opposite among Democrats. Among independents, 36 percent approved and 46 percent disapproved.
The CNN/ORC poll showed 89 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s performance so far and 10 percent disapproved (+79); among Democrats, 89 percent disapproved and 10 percent approved (-81), while 41 percent of independents approved and 55 percent disapproved (-14). Going deeper into the CNN poll, 51 percent of men approved and 47 percent disapproved (+4), while 38 percent of women approved and 58 percent disapproved (-20). Among whites, 53 percent approved and 45 percent disapproved (+8), while only 28 percent of nonwhites approved and 70 percent disapproved (-42).
Among whites, just 38 percent of college graduates approved and 59 percent disapproved (-21), but 59 percent of non-college-graduate whites approved and just 38 percent disapproved (+21). Trump’s approval rating in urban areas was just 32 percent, with disapproval at 64 percent, while suburban adults split evenly at 49 percent, and 64 percent of rural Americans approved and 36 percent disapproved (+28).
Among people under 45 years of age, 33 percent approved of Trump’s performance and 63 percent disapproved (-30), while people 45 and older approved by 53 to 45 percent (+8). Of respondents aged 18 through 34, 32 percent approved and 64 percent disapproved (-28), while those aged 35 through 49 showed 39 percent approval and 58 percent disapproval (-19). Trump does much better among older people: 56 percent of those aged 50 through 64 years approved and 43 percent disapproved (+13); of the 65-and-above group, 53 percent approved and 46 percent disapproved (+7).
This generation gap should concern Republicans. On the other hand, since younger voters are least likely to vote in midterm elections, Democrats should not count on big wins next year—at least on the federal level, where they have much more exposure in the Senate and where House congressional district lines favor Republicans. Races for governor and state legislatures provide more opportunities for Democrats, though the turnout dynamics will still tend to work against them. Still, Republicans should remember that it is the angry and disaffected who tend to vote disproportionately in midterm elections, which is why they usually go badly for the party in the White House.
In short, the battle lines this year look pretty much the way they did before the election. Trump has lost a little ground among independents, but there have been few conversions. His base loves the substance of what he is doing, though it’s reasonable to assume that many would prefer to see a smoother rollout. To his critics, Trump has been every bit as bad as they feared.
The theme of the first two weeks of the Trump administration has been to push out executive orders aimed at delivering as much of his agenda as possible, but before long the grind of running an administration will begin. That means Trump will have to do those governing things that presidents are required to do, and his staff will need to learn how to work with Congress and deal with the news media.
It will also be a time when Trump either grows into the job or becomes bored with it. He entered office with only a tenuous grasp of what it entailed. Does he become more engaged with its work demands or content himself with the ceremonial aspects of the job, leaving the governing to staff? If the latter, are the Alpha Dogs today going to be the Alpha Dogs next year? As is usually the case, presidential aides are busy jockeying for position.
But at least as far as the American people are concerned, very little has changed since the weeks leading into the election. Those who liked him then still do, and those who didn’t still don’t.
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