Politics & Government

Most Americans are not impressed with Trump’s transition, but his popularity is rising

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition efforts are moving along quickly, but most Americans are not impressed.

Even though transition officials touted on Thursday that the president-elect is halfway through naming his Cabinet-level appointments, only 40 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s choices according to a national survey by Pew Research.

This significantly trails the approval numbers for his predecessors’ transition work. When Barack Obama was assembling his cabinet in December 2008, 71 percent of Americans approved of his choices. In January 2001, as George W. Bush was preparing for his inauguration, 58 percent of the public had a positive view of his high-level appointments.

Trump has drawn fire for appointing conservative provocateur Steve Bannon, the executive editor of the Breitbart website, to be his chief strategist in the White House. He has chosen retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser despite criticism of his remarks about Muslims. His pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., was previously rejected from a federal appointment after allegations surfaced about racist remarks and he has been slammed by civil rights groups.

In the survey, 54 percent of the public said that Trump has not done enough to distance himself from white nationalist groups.

Despite the negative view of Trump’s transition, Americans surveyed by Pew seemed more optimistic about his presidency looking forward than they did during the campaign.

In the poll, 35 percent of Americans said they think Trump will be a great or good president, compared to the 25 percent who thought so in October. In the same time period, the number of people who said they think Trump will be a terrible or poor president shrank from 57 percent to 38 percent.

Even so, many Americans still don’t think Trump is well-qualified to be commander-in-chief, with that number going from 32 percent in October to 37 percent this month.

One thing he could do to improve his approval ratings: Stop tweeting.

About 4 in 5 Americans – including 76 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats – think that once Trump becomes president, he “will need to be more cautious about the kinds of things he says and tweets.”

The survey also showed that Americans see their country as deeply divided going into the new year and the new presidential administration.

Eighty-five percent think there are very strong or strong conflicts between Democrats and Republicans after the election, and roughly two-thirds of Americans surveyed think there are also large rifts between blacks and whites and between the rich and poor.

Just 41 percent of Americans polled by Pew between Nov. 30 and Dec. 5 said they approve of Trump’s efforts to explain the policies and plans of his administration. Again, that is lower than the 72 percent who approved of the way Obama laid out his plans for the future, and the 50 percent of Americans who thought Bush did a good job.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen