Majority of Americans Skeptical Trump Can Handle Presidential Duties

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President-elect Donald J. Trump returns to Mobile, Alabama, in last stop on ‘victory tour.’: Glynn Wilson

By Glynn Wilson –

As Donald J. Trump prepares to take the oath of office on Jan. 20, less than half of Americans say they are confident in his ability to handle the duties of a president of the United States.

According to the latest Gallup poll on the subject, only 44 percent of respondents say they have confidence in Trump’s ability avoid major scandals. Only 46 percent say they have confidence in his ability to handle an international crisis, and only 47 percent say they have confidence in his ability to use force wisely.

By contrast, at least seven in 10 Americans were confident in Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in these areas before they took office, according to Gallup.

Americans express somewhat more confidence in Trump to work effectively with Congress (60%), to handle the economy effectively (59%), to defend U.S. interests abroad as president (55%), and to manage the executive branch effectively (53%).

But even in these areas, Americans are far less confident in Trump than they were in his predecessors.

“Trump will have the benefit of working with Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate,” Gallup says. “However, Obama and Bush — both of whom also took office with a friendly Congress — engendered even greater confidence than Trump in this area.”

Trump’s business background may contribute to Americans’ relatively positive expectations for his presidential performance on the economy,” Gallup says. “The economy was also a relative issue strength for Trump during the campaign.”

While between 77 percent and 90 percent of Republicans are confident in the president-elect, expressing greater confidence in his ability to handle the economy and work with Congress, and less in his being able to prevent scandals, few Democrats express confidence in Trump to handle the various presidential responsibilities. Only 14 percent say he can prevent scandals and only 35 percent have confidence he can work effectively with Congress.

If Republicans were thinking that Trump may be less polarizing than President Obama, and Democrats were thinking Trump may be less polarizing than Bush, they may want to think again. Gallup’s data show Trump is even more politically polarizing than Obama or Bush.

For example, upon taking office, an average of 60 percent of Republicans were confident in Obama and an average of 57 percent of Democrats were confident in Bush.

“These data underscore the much more polarized partisan environment in which Trump will be taking office,” Gallup says.

Trump also fares much worse among independents on the same five questions about handling presidential duties. Only 50 percent of independents express confidence in Trump, while 75 percent had confidence in Bush and 79 percent had confidence in Obama.

Gallup’s Implications

“Trump defied political experts as well as some historical election patterns in winning the presidency. Emerging the victor in a contentious campaign featuring two of the least well-liked candidates in modern presidential election history, Trump prepares to take office with a majority of Americans viewing him unfavorably,” Gallup says. “Trump is also much less well-liked than any recent president-elect … the public is much less confident in Trump than in his predecessors to handle several of a president’s major tasks, including dealing with challenging foreign policy matters such as handling an international crisis or using U.S. military force.”

Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, also has high unfavorable ratings, and the public most likely would have had similarly low expectations of her ability to handle these situations had she won, Gallup says.

“In addition to their personal feelings about Trump, Americans’ lower confidence in him may also stem from the public’s generally low level of trust in government. Americans’ trust in the federal government to handle international and domestic problems is worse now than it was when Bush and Obama took office,” Gallup says. “Also, their confidence in the institution of the presidency remains below the historical average, though it is higher now than the record lows it registered at the end of the Bush administration. The high political polarization and low trust in government have created a public opinion context that is much more challenging for Trump than it was for those who preceded him in the Oval Office. It appears likely that Trump will begin his administration with far less support from the American people than other recent presidents have.”

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 7-11, 2016, with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60 percent cellphone respondents and 40 percent landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.