White House

A nation divided on Melania Trump: 56 percent think she’ll be fair or poor as first lady

Melania Trump, wife of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks at the Main Line Sports Center in Berwyn, Pa., Nov. 3, 2016.
Melania Trump, wife of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks at the Main Line Sports Center in Berwyn, Pa., Nov. 3, 2016. AP

A divided nation remains so on their judgment of Melania Trump as the country’s next first lady.

Fifty-six percent of adults polled say that Trump will be a fair or poor first lady, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

Party affiliation of those judging her makes a difference.

Nearly half of Democrats – 48 percent – think Trump would make a poor first lady while more than half of Republicans – 61 percent – think she will be a good or excellent first lady.

In December 2008, Michelle Obama fared much better overall with 60 percent saying she would make a good or excellent first lady as her husband prepared to enter the White House.

Lee Harwell, 62, owner of a commercial cleaning business in Sequim, Wash., described the 46-year-old Slovene-born wife of President-elect Donald Trump as a “a puppet.”

“There’s nothing genuine to anything about her,” said Harwell, an independent voter. “That woman married Donald Trump, why would she marry him? Because he’s a billionaire. There’s no love involved in that relationship. She’s probably a mail-order bride, I mean how does he meet someone like that?”

Trump met his current wife at a Fashion Week party in 1998 when she was working as a model in New York City.

People have to grow into the role. Michelle Obama kind of grew into hers. She took on several causes and became a good one. Both of the Bush wives did the same thing.

Gordon Benner, 64, a retired builder of apartment complexes from Jewett, Texas

Twenty-six percent think Trump will be a poor first lady; 30 percent said she’d be a fair one; 21 percent said she’d be good and only 13 percent said she’d be excellent. Nine percent said they were unsure.

Latinos and African-Americans expressed the lowest expectations. Forty-four percent of Latinos and 40 percent of African Americans think she will be a poor first lady.

40 percentof poll respondents aged 18-29 say Melania Trump will be a poor first lady

Trump, a former model and third wife of the 45th president, largely stayed off the campaign trail and isn’t often seen in public aside from an occasional appearance with her husband. Her highly anticipated speech at the Republican National Committee was well delivered but quickly criticized for its inclusion of what were familiar passages from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech.

“I just don’t think there has been a sense of presence – by her own choosing,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the survey. “She hasn’t really shown she is going to approach that role with a sense of urgency and interest. ... She needs to become more visible and active.”

That isn’t likely to happen soon.

Melania Trump expects to remain in New York City in January after her husband is sworn into office so that the couple’s 10-year-old son, Barron, can finish the school year.

“She thinks the White House is kind of beneath her,” said Hal Collins, 80, a Democrat and veteran from Elizabeth City, N.C. “To her it’s a nice place to visit once in a while, not a place to hang her hat.” Obama, he said, was more “out there and accessible.”

But Laura Holt, 61, who supported Donald Trump and recently sold her family business in Garden Grove, Calif., said Melania Trump is delaying moving into the White House for her son, “not for selfish reasons.”

“She’s very classy. She’s a family person. She’s not just out for the spotlight,” she said.

Some of the more traditional first lady duties are expected to be filled by Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who plans to move to Washington with her husband.

Still, Melania Trump has said she plans to take up at least one issue as first lady: cyberbullying.

I think she is very poised but she is also real. You can feel that there is something real there.

Ione Reese, 65, a Republican and retired bank teller from Nacogdoches, Texas

Samantha Myers, 27, a social worker from Houston, Texas, who generally votes for Democrats, said she hopes Trump will advocate for initiatives as Michelle Obama did with healthy eating and veterans’ assistance.

“I’m going to give her a chance,” Myers said. “I hope she steps up and actively participates in social problems. I don’t think it’s her past but that doesn’t mean it can’t be her future.”

In December 2008, 30 percent of voters thought Michelle Obama would make an excellent first lady; 30 percent thought she’d be good; 19 percent thought she’d be fair and 9 percent thought she’d be poor. Twelve percent were unsure.

Sarah Patel, 26, a physical therapist from Austin, Texas, praised Obama for having an interest in politics, focusing on her own causes and epitomizing what she called the “modern American woman.”

Patel said she has a somewhat negative impression of Trump because she appears to be disinterested in politics. But, she said, she hopes that will change when she moves into the White House.

Vera Bergengruen and David Goldstein contributed.

Poll methodology

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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