White House

Poll: A little thaw, but still no honeymoon for Trump

President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West pose for a picture in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York Tuesday.
President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West pose for a picture in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York Tuesday. AP

Newly elected presidents usually get a honeymoon period from the American public. Not Donald Trump.

People remain deeply concerned about Trump’s volatile, unpredictable temperament, a new McClatchy-Marist poll finds. They’re troubled by questions about his ethics. And they remain deeply divided over whether he’ll be an effective president.

“People are not settling down to the fact he’s president-elect,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the survey. “They feel things are more divided.”

Since winning the election, Trump has continued to court controversy. He’s called credible reports that Russia tried to influence the election “ridiculous.” He’s tweeted his disdain for “Saturday Night Live” parodies of him. He tore into the cast of Broadway’s “Hamilton” after cast members criticized the administration from the stage on a night when Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended.

Much of the public isn’t pleased. “He tends to talk about things before he thinks them through,” said Chris Donnelly, 42, a Greenville, S.C., construction engineer.

Seventy-two percent believe the country is more divided since the election; just 20 percent say it is more unified. Fifty-three percent said Trump would do more to divide the country than unite it.

“It’s more divided than ever,” said Eileen Mangino, 55, a postal worker from St. Augustine, Fla. “It seems like he’s trying to make America white again.”

But Scott Brown, 30, a Wickett, Texas, truck driver, saw Trump bringing the country together. “He’s not like Obama. I like that,” Brown said.

He’s doing a real good job so far.

Scott Brown, a Wickett, Texas, truck driver discussing President-elect Donald Trump

In one sense, the national chasm is not a surprise following one of the ugliest presidential elections in memory and eight years of the Obama presidency.

But historically, the nation comes together after electing a new president. Eight years ago, 63 percent approved of how President-elect Barack Obama handled the transition. Just 10 percent disapproved. Obama had won 52.9 percent of the popular vote.

This month, Trump won approval from 49 percent in the poll after winning 46 percent of the popular vote – trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 48 percent – and poll opinion about him fell largely along party lines. Nearly nine of 10 Republicans approved of Trump in the poll. About three-fourths of Democrats disapproved.

People were split on whether Trump would promote change for the better. Forty-four percent said he would while 34 percent said he would not.

Obama eight years ago stirred more optimism as 55 percent were optimistic about change and 10 percent were not.

Obama’s showing was in line with the honeymoon period enjoyed by recent presidents-elect.

Shortly after his election in 1992, Bill Clinton was viewed favorably by 58 percent in the Gallup Poll, even though he had won 43 percent of the popular vote. Eight years later, after a bitter battle over the Florida recount that delayed a final result until mid-December, George W. Bush was seen favorably by 59 percent just after that verdict.

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Supporters were encouraged that Trump is promoting what they see as long-needed practical solutions.

“I like how he’s going to build that wall around Mexico,” said Brown, who lives near the border.

And they appreciate what they see as a feel for working people. “I didn’t like being called deplorable,” said Tom Ferrara, a contractor from Cotati, Calif., recalling Clinton’s reference to many Trump supporters.

To Trump critics, such talk is nonsense. They don’t see him as presidential. Fifty-seven percent said he has not calmed concerns about his temperament, while 38 percent said he has been able to quiet their worries.

85 percent of Democrats still had concerns about Donald Trump’s temperament. Two-thirds of Republicans said he’d calmed their concerns.

“I don’t like the way he talks and how it comes across to kids,” said Mike Record, a Paradise, Texas, mechanic.

Fifty-two percent had an unfavorable impression of Trump, down from 64 percent in November. And 43 percent viewed him favorably in December, up from 31 percent in November.

Trump, the first political outsider to win the presidency since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, remains a political mystery to many. People were split on whether he’d provide good leadership. A majority was confident he could grow the economy and keep America safe. But a majority was not confident he could handle foreign policy.

Overall, 31 percent found him too conservative, while 14 percent thought him too liberal and 45 percent said his views were “about right.”

But one of five conservatives thought he was too liberal.

One area where Trump seems to have puzzled backers is in picking corporate executives and political officeholders for key positions.

He pledged to “drain the swamp” but half of his constituents saw him building an administration made up of establishment or military figures. And 36 percent saw Washington as becoming less ethical, compared to 32 percent who saw ethics improving. They saw Trump himself as less ethical than other Washington officeholders, by 42 to 28 percent.

David Remensnyder, 56, a Myrtle Beach, S.C., home builder, still backs Trump, but finds “there’s too many generals in there. Everybody doesn’t have to be part of the military.”

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

HOW THE SURVEY WAS CONDUCTED

This survey of 1,005 adults was conducted Dec. 1-9, 2016, by The Marist Poll, sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were randomly selected by first asking for the youngest male. This landline sample was combined with respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. After the interviews were completed, the two samples were combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. There are 873 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.

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