Aided by a strong economy, Trump approval rises, but a majority see him as 'unpresidential'

The economy is the lone issue in the survey where Mr Trump enjoys positive numbers, with 51 per cent saying they approve of the way he has dealt with issues.
The economy is the lone issue in the survey where Mr Trump enjoys positive numbers, with 51 per cent saying they approve of the way he has dealt with issues.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Aided by a strong economy and perceptions that he has dealt with it effectively, United States President Donald Trump's approval rating has risen to the highest point of his presidency, though a slight majority of Americans continue to say they disapprove of his performance in office, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey highlights the degree to which Mr Trump has a narrow but real path to re-election. His approval rating on most issues is net negative, and more than six in 10 Americans say he has acted in ways that are unpresidential since he was sworn into office.

Still, roughly one-fifth of those who say he is not presidential say they approve of the job he is doing, and he runs even against four possible Democratic nominees in hypothetical general-election match-ups. He trails decisively only to former vice-president Joe Biden.

Mr Trump's approval rating among voting-age Americans stands at 44 per cent, edging up from 39 per cent in April, with 53 per cent saying they disapprove of him. Among registered voters, 47 per cent say they approve of Mr Trump while 50 per cent disapprove. In April, 42 per cent of registered voters said they approved while 54 per cent said they disapproved.

More than a year before the general election and long before the Democrats will select their nominee, the 2020 contest is playing out against the backdrop of an electorate deeply divided over the president, with a small percentage of registered voters up for grabs. Both Democrats and the president enjoy solid bases of support, but more Americans say it is extremely important that Mr Trump not win re-election than those who say it is extremely important that he is re-elected.

The survey highlights significant differences between women and men in their candidate preference, a continuation of a trend that has been evident throughout Mr Trump's presidency. Those gender differences shaped the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats captured the House with strong support among women. In the new survey, men clearly favour Mr Trump against four of five potential Democratic challengers (they are evenly divided over a Biden-Trump contest) while women back all five by strong margins.

The economy is the lone issue in the survey where Mr Trump enjoys positive numbers, with 51 per cent saying they approve of the way he has dealt with issues. A smaller 42 per cent disapprove of his handling of it, down slightly from 46 per cent last October.

Asked how much credit Mr Trump deserves for the state of the economy, 47 per cent say a "great deal" or a "good amount", while 48 per cent say he deserves "only some" or "hardly any". When asked the same question in a January 2018 survey, a smaller 38 per cent of Americans gave him credit for the economy while 56 per cent said he deserved little or no credit. In that 2018 poll, 19 per cent said he deserved a great deal of credit for the economy; today that number is 30 per cent.

 
 
 

On the eight other issues measured, Mr Trump gets negative ratings, ranging from a net negative of seven points on taxes to a net negative of 33 points on climate change. More than half of all Americans disapprove of his handling of immigration, healthcare, abortion, gun violence and "issues of special concern to women".

The survey was conducted while Mr Trump was attending a meeting of world leaders in Japan, where trade tensions with China were eased. He later met North Korea's Kim Jong Un - taking steps into that nation and coming to an agreement to restart nuclear negotiations. But by 55 per cent to 40 per cent, Americans disapproved of his handling of foreign policy.

The survey matched Mr Trump against five possible Democratic nominees: Mr Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Among registered voters, only Mr Biden emerged with a clear advantage, leading Mr Trump by 53 per cent to 43 per cent. Mr Trump runs very close against Ms Harris (46 per cent Trump, 48 per cent Harris) and Mr Sanders (48 per cent Trump, 49 per cent Sanders), and he runs even against Ms Warren (both at 48 per cent) and Mr Buttigieg (both at 47 per cent).

Among the broader pool of voting-age adults, all five Democrats hold at least a slight advantage over Mr Trump.

Mr Trump and Republicans are trying to attach the label of "socialist" to all the Democrats. Asked a generic question about a match-up between Mr Trump and a candidate regarded as a socialist, the president holds a slight edge of 49 per cent to 43 per cent among registered voters.

Across the five match-ups against named possible Democratic nominees, 41 per cent of registered voters always choose the Democrat, and 40 per cent always choose the president. Meanwhile, 54 per cent of voters either support Mr Trump against at least one named Democrat or say they would consider backing him.

Mr Trump's hardcore base includes 21 per cent of registered voters, who support him against any of the five possible Democratic challengers tested and who say it is "extremely important" that he be re-elected. That rises to 31 per cent when those who say it is "very important" that he win a second term are added to those solid Trump supporters.

Arrayed against Mr Trump are 36 per cent of registered voters who never support Mr Trump in the match-ups and say it is "extremely important" that the president not win a second term. That rises to 43 per cent when those who say it is "very important" that Mr Trump not be re-elected are added to those consistent anti-Trump voters.

Mr Biden's lead over Mr Trump is built in part on stronger support among independent voters and among self-identified moderates. He enjoys a seven-point edge among independents, while the other Democrats are even or trailing Mr Trump with those voters. Among moderates, Mr Biden has a 28-point advantage over the president, significantly more than any of the other Democrats tested.

Gender and education are clear fault lines in the electorate as voters think about 2020 choices. Mr Trump receives between 38 per cent and 42 per cent support from women when matched against the five potential Democratic challengers. Even tested against a hypothetical candidate regarded as a socialist, he gets only 42 per cent of support from women. Among men, Mr Trump's support ranges from 49 per cent against Mr Biden, to 54 per cent against the other Democrats, and to 57 per cent against a hypothetical socialist.

Mr Trump wins majority support among white voters, but he does far better with those who do not have college degrees than those who do, a pattern that emerged strongly in the 2016 election and continues to define the political divisions today. Non-white voters favour all Democrats by a wide margin over Mr Trump; 76 per cent of all non-white voters say they would support Mr Biden if the election were held today, as would 85 per cent of African American voters.

There is also a strong urban-rural split, with potential Democratic challengers enjoying big margins among urban voters and Mr Trump holding sizeable margins among those who live in rural and small-town areas.

As it happened in 2016, the geographic battle in 2020 will centre on the suburbs: In the head-to-head comparisons, Mr Biden leads slightly among suburban voters. Mr Trump is competitive with the other Democrats tested in suburban areas.

Overall, the top issues for Americans as the 2020 election nears are the economy, healthcare and immigration. Foreign policy, gun violence, taxes, issues of special concern to women and abortion follow behind. Climate change trails the others - but still over half say it's at least "very important". 

Republicans and Democrats diverge on which issues they would list as one of the single most important in influencing their vote. For example, 31 per cent of Democrats cite healthcare as one of the single most important issues, compared with 9 per cent of Republicans. Climate change is another example, with 27 per cent of Democrats and 6 per cent of Republicans calling it one of the single most important issues for 2020. On the economy, there is more agreement about its significance.

In the area of healthcare, the cost of coverage and treatment ranks as a serious concern, with 71 per cent of Americans saying they are worried about this, including 45 per cent who say they are very worried.

A slight majority (52 per cent) of Americans say they would favour a universal healthcare system run by the government and funded by taxes over the current system. But when asked whether they would prefer such a system if it meant an end to private insurance, support falls to 43 per cent.

As Congress prepares for testimony by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters, the survey shows a clear majority of Americans continue to oppose impeachment proceedings.

The new poll finds 59 per cent of Americans saying the House should not begin such proceedings, including 46 per cent who strongly oppose such a move. That is a slight increase since April. The percentage favouring impeachment proceedings, 37 per cent, is the same as it was in April and 12 points lower than in August 2018.

A 61 per cent majority of Democrats support impeaching Mr Trump, including 49 per cent who support doing so "strongly", reflecting the cross pressures hitting both the presidential candidates and members of Congress.

This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone from June 28 through July 1 among a random national sample of 1,008 adults, with 65 per cent reached on cellphones and 35 per cent on landlines. Results from the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is four points among the sample of 875 registered voters.