A surprising result in light of Bloomberg’s poll yesterday showing Trump’s favorable rating climbing to 50/43. Pew’s numbers are very, very different: They have his rating at a dismal 37/58, which is hard to believe after his big Carrier win. Of the last three presidents before him, none took office with favorability lower than 60 percent. That was Dubya, coming off his loss of the national popular vote and the controversial Supreme Court decision on the Florida recount.
There’s buzz among political nerds on social media this afternoon specifically for the poor ratings his transition has received, with just 41 percent saying Trump has done a good job explaining his policies and plans for the future and 40 percent saying they approve of Trump’s cabinet picks. I can understand the first number — with a few notable exceptions, Trump really is vague on policy specifics in a lot of areas — but the second is surprising. The great fear when he was elected president, I thought, was that he’d staff up with total amateurs and oddballs. Instead he’s made mostly strong picks involving respected professionals, starting with Gen. Mattis at Defense and Mike Pompeo at CIA. Why is the public down on his cabinet?
Check the partisan split and you’ll see why. Put simply, Democrats loathe Trump.
Even Bush was close to majority approval among Democrats for his cabinet in 2001. Trump? Eleven percent. The numbers look similar for the question about explaining his policies and plans. Just 15 percent of Democrats say Trump’s doing a good job with that; almost twice as many said so of Dubya 15 years ago. Republicans voters weren’t nearly as skeptical of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama on that count, and fully 49 percent of GOPers thought O had done a good job with his cabinet eight years ago. It’s unprecedented Democratic skepticism that’s driving Trump’s historically poor rating. You can blame pure partisanship in a polarized age for that, or you can blame media attention to Trump’s more dubious cabinet picks (Flynn at NSA, Carson at HUD) for obscuring the overall picture. But if Pew’s numbers are right, Trump will be facing Bush-plus levels of antipathy from the left on day one.
Also of note:
That result might be influencing perceptions of Trump’s transition, whether directly or indirectly. The media’s given lots of attention over the last few weeks to white nationalists celebrating Trump’s victory; they’ve tried to paint Steve Bannon, Trump’s top advisor, as a white nationalist because of what he once said about Breitbart being “the platform for the alt-right.” (Even Bannon’s harshest critics, like Ben Shapiro, acknowledge that they’ve never known him to hold those views.) It could be that the coverage of Bannon and of people like Richard Spencer has convinced some chunk of the public that there’s a white nationalist element in Trump’s inner circle. If so, that would explain why people are down on his transition effort. Or, even if they’re not connecting this to Bannon specifically, it may be that public distaste for white-nationalist support for Trump is coloring how they see the new administration more broadly. In other words, if Democrats have become convinced that Trump’s movement is essentially a white-identity project then they’re going to give thumbs down on virtually any question you ask about him. Is he being clear on his policies and plans? Thumbs down. Is he doing a good job with his cabinet? Thumbs down. How about his suit-and-tie ensembles? Thumbs down.
Or maybe this is all just butthurt at having lost an election that some data nerds were telling them they had a 99 percent chance of winning. The big difference between Trump winning the election this year despite losing the popular vote and Bush winning in 2000 despite losing the popular vote is that Bush was expected to win that election. He led in most polls in October and November. If not for the last-minute oppo drop about his old DWI conviction, he might have won the popular vote too. Trump’s win was a bolt from the blue by contrast; virtually no polls had him winning, including his own internal polling. Reconciling themselves to that reality will take time for the left, but in the meantime you’re seeing small fits of rejectionism — the dopey Jill Stein recount, the desperate pleas to the electoral college to overturn the outcome, and even polling numbers like this about Trump’s transition. They’ll adjust eventually. I think?