The bipartisan GW Battleground Poll is out with a new survey that finds the president-elect’s approval rating post-election (no surprise) is up to 45 percent while 49 percent register disapproval. That is much lower than President Obama (53/42 percent). That’s historically poor, although a big improvement since the election. (President Obama’s approval was in the mid-60s during his transition in 2008.)
Interestingly, a plurality (21 percent) want President-elect Trump to address division in the country, with the economy (18 percent) coming in second. Expectations are low, however. Only 17 percent think it is very likely Trump will build a wall. Overall the pollsters report:
Most people were doubtful about the prospects of Trump’s signature proposal, building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border; 55 percent said it was not very or not at all likely, and 41 percent said it was very or somewhat likely.
People thought there was a much better chance of the Affordable Care Act being repealed and replaced with an alternative (79 percent chose “very” or “somewhat” likely, 17 percent chose “not very” or “not at all” likely). They also projected good odds for Trump’s infrastructure plans (66 percent chose “very” or “somewhat” likely, 31 percent chose “not very” or “not at all” likely) and tax code reform (71 percent chose “very” or “somewhat” likely, 24 percent chose “not very” or “not at all” likely).
Great skepticism exists that he will end involvement in Asia and Europe (63 percent say not very likely or not at all likely).
It’s not unusual that presidents-elect get a boost in the polls between the election and inauguration. They have yet to do anything (other than name nominees) that will irritate people. The trouble starts when they start doing or failing to do what voters want.
Trump and his advisers have been signaling they are not serious about withdrawing from NAFTA, returning to waterboarding detainees, locking up Hillary Clinton or even getting rid of all of Obamacare. To the extent voters have low expectations on some issues that he’ll keep promises and he apparently has a low interest in keeping them, Trump may not suffer politically if he walks away from campaign promises. However, failing to deliver on his pledge to replace Obamacare with something “awesome” may engender widespread disillusionment among followers who never demanded to know how he was going to attain these and other “fantastic” things.
Trump will of course claim a “mandate” to do all sorts of things. There are a few obvious problems with that.
First, to the extent Trump is reversing himself on campaign promises, he’ll by definition have no mandate. We argue that this is nevertheless a good thing if he is walking away from dumb ideas such as rounding up 11 million people, buddying up to Russia, reneging on trade deals, etc.
Second, Trump’s own people are gloating that issues didn’t matter. This was an emotionally cathartic election in which voters paid no attention to policy positions. The Post quotes multiple Trump advisers bragging about their indifference to ideology and issues:
“Every time he said something … and doubled down, that was proof to voters he’d speak his mind and not lie to them. It’s what they wanted,” [pollster Tony] Fabrizio said of Trump.“His best group of voters were those who said they were ‘angry.’ And let me tell you, in the Republican primary, a third of voters would tell you they were outright angry. With another 60 percent telling you they were dissatisfied. So he had a rich pool to tap into.” . . .
“What we missed was that nobody cared about solutions,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who managed Mike Huckabee’s campaign until he dropped out, then joined Trump’s operation as a consultant soon after. “They just wanted to burn it all down. They didn’t care about building it back up. They wanted to burn it to the ground and then figure out what to do with the ashes afterwards. There was no understanding of this electorate and the anger on the front end in terms of just how pissed off they were. You may have the best policy in the world to get every single American the best job they’ve ever had. Nobody cared.”
That is what Trump’s people say now. If so, there surely cannot be an affirmative mandate to do much of anything.
Finally, it turns out a lot of what Trump promised is really unpopular (e.g. mass deportation, repealing all of Obamacare). If House Republicans have their way — repealing Obamacare with no certain replacement ready — the backlash may be substantial. Governing in a highly polarized country after a campaign styled on anger and not substance may be more difficult that Republicans imagine. They should be wary of over-interpreting the election results and ignoring what voters now are telling them.