Trump grumbled about the polls on Twitter this morning because three that came out within the last 24 hours — Gallup, ABC/WaPo, and now CNN — have him at exactly 40 percent in either favorability or job approval during the transition. Disapproval doesn’t mean illegitimacy, though: When asked if they thought the material lifted by Russia from the DNC and John Podesta and released via Wikileaks affected the outcome of the election, nearly 60 percent told CNN that it didn’t. Most of the public still believes he won fair and square.
The partisan split is noteworthy, though. There’s a reason Democrats like John Lewis feel comfortable trying to delegitimize Trump:
Nearly two-thirds of Dems think Hillary would have won if not for the hackings. (Interestingly, so do 10 percent of Trump supporters.) But then, per last month’s YouGov poll, 52 percent of Democrats believe it’s “probably” true that Russia tampered with the vote totals to make Trump the winner — a claim for which there’s zero evidence and which Obama himself has rejected. Lots of Dems apparently can’t handle the reality that Trump was more popular than Hillary in the most important states and are reaching for Russian chicanery to explain her failures. And now that Lewis and other Dems have made a show of their objections by boycotting the inauguration (more than 40 are skipping the ceremony as I write this), the left’s own “permission structure” will encourage fencesitters on their side to join them in openly questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s win. The overall share of the public that claims Hillary would have won if not for Russia’s interference may rise simply because Lewis and his colleagues are mainstreaming it as a partisan position.
Relatedly, the public also believes on balance that it’s more important to continue to improve relations with Russia than to take strong measures against them for their campaign interference, which is good news for Trump’s plans for detente:
When asked whether they think he’ll be too easy on Russia or will handle Russian relations about right, 75 percent of Democrats say the former while 80 percent of Republicans say the latter. Despite his consistent refusal to criticize Putin, his open skepticism about NATO, and last week’s firestorm over the BuzzFeed memos, just nine percent of Republicans fear Trump will be too easy on Russia. Americans are going to give him a chance to prove that warmer relations with Moscow will produce good things for the country, thanks largely to overwhelming support among his own party.
As for Trump’s overall approval ratings, even if you’re skeptical about the topline numbers, the trend is worth noting:
In November, two weeks after the election, his approval on handling his transition was 48/47. Now it’s 40/52. When asked in November if they thought he’d be a good or bad president, the public split 53/44. Now it’s 48/48. Some of that downturn was probably inevitable, as Trump’s cabinet picks may have been more conservative (to his credit) than some of his moderate or center-left supporters might have liked. But it also reminds me of what Scarborough said yesterday about his approach to taking on all comers and fighting a dozen different battles at once — with Lewis, with the intelligence community, with pollsters, and on and on. Trump was gracious to his opponents in the weeks following the election, most memorably in his Oval Office sitdown with Obama, and got a boost in his numbers because of it. Now that he’s reverted to his usual combative M.O., the change in tone may be costing him. Maybe he’ll be different next week. Maybe?