Donald Trump's approval at record lows but his base is holding

With his first 100 days in office approaching, President Trump still holds the support of the voters in struggling, small town America who helped propel him into the White House. PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump listens during a a joint press conference with Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (not pictured), inside the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 12, 2017.
US President Donald Trump listens during a a joint press conference with Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (not pictured), inside the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 12, 2017. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - President Donald Trump nears the 100-day mark of his administration as the least popular chief executive in modern times, a president whose voters remain largely satisfied with his performance, but one whose base of support has not expanded since he took the oath of office, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Trump's first months in office have produced some tangible successes. Beyond the continued enthusiasm of his most loyal supporters, a small majority of Americans see him as a strong leader. A bigger majority approves of his efforts to pressure US companies to keep jobs in this country. Those who say the economy is getting better outnumber those who say it's getting worse by the biggest margin in 15 years in the Post-ABC polling.

But the president's balance sheet overall tilts toward the negative. Majorities of Americans say Trump has not accomplished much during his first months as president. Meanwhile, he shows little improvement on his temperament and honesty, and while he has gained ground on empathy, more than six in 10 still say he does not understand the problems of people like them.

With less than a week remaining before his 100th day in office, Trump has yet to achieve a major legislative accomplishment, having been dealt a major setback when Republicans in Congress decided not to proceed with a vote on a healthcare bill supported by the White House.

His clearest achievement is the successful nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court seat previously held by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Executive actions on trade, immigration, climate and government organisation have pointed the direction Trump wants to take the country, though his controversial proposed entry ban that affects a number of Muslim-majority nations remains blocked by the courts.

Trump and others in his administration have attacked the courts, accusing them of overreach, but nearly six in 10 people see the courts' actions as a legitimate role for the judicial branch.

Overseas, he has demonstrated his willingness to use military force, with targeted strikes in Syria and the use of one of the biggest non-nuclear devices in the US arsenal in Afghanistan. But tensions with North Korea remain high, and the administration's policy in the Middle East remains cloudy.

The 100-day marker is an artificial measuring post for any president, but by comparison, Trump has reached this point in his presidency faring worse to much worse than other recent presidents. An electorate that was deeply divided throughout the 2016 campaign remains so today, with opposition seemingly hardened and unyielding on most questions regarding his presidency.

The president's approval rating stands at 42 per cent, the lowest recorded at this stage of a presidency dating to Dwight Eisenhower. Trump's 53 per cent disapproval rating is 14 percentage points higher than Bill Clinton's 39 per cent disapproval in April 1993, the worst before Trump. Eight years ago, then-president Barack Obama's approval was 69 per cent, his disapproval 26 per cent.

The Post-ABC poll finds 43 per cent of Americans said they strongly disapprove of Trump's performance. That's also the worst by far of any president since George H.W. Bush by more than double. In the spring of 1993, 21 per cent said they strongly disapproved of Clinton's performance.

Americans split at 35 per cent apiece on whether Trump is doing a better or worse job than expected, with the rest saying he's neither above nor below their expectations.

There are no signs of major slippage in support among those who voted for Trump. His approval rating among those who cast ballots for him stands at 94 per cent. Among Republicans, it is 84 per cent. Asked of those who voted for him whether they regret doing so, 2 per cent say they do, while 96 per cent say supporting Trump was the right thing to do. When asked whether they would vote for him again, 96 per cent say they would, which is higher than the 85 per cent of Hillary Clinton voters who say they would support her again.

Trump is also satisfying the substantial share of the electorate that voted for him with some reservation. Among Trump voters who say they were "somewhat enthusiastic" or less excited about supporting him, 88 per cent approve of his current performance, and 79 per cent say he understands the problems of people like them.

Bill Clinton also had a rocky start to his presidency, which colored public judgments of his presidency by the 100-day mark. Although 42 per cent say Trump has accomplished either a great deal or a good amount so far, that is slightly higher than the 37 per cent who said the same about Clinton in 1993.

Similarly, judgments on whether campaign promises have been kept put Trump on about equal footing with Bill Clinton: 44 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively. Also, Trump's 53 per cent positive rating on strong leadership is almost identical to that of George W. Bush at this point in his presidency, but much lower than Obama's 77 per cent rating.

Of those who say Trump has not accomplished much, 47 per cent pin the blame on him while about a quarter blame congressional Republicans. Seven per cent say Democrats are to blame.

One of Trump's biggest deficiencies, compared with those of other presidents, is whether he is honest and trustworthy. Fewer than 4 in 10 (38 percent) say he is. At this point in their presidencies, 74 per cent said Obama was honest, 62 per cent said George W. Bush was honest, and a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed 61 per cent said Clinton was honest.

Another gap is on the question of whether Trump can be trusted in a crisis. The poll finds that 43 per cent - about the same as Trump's approval rating - say he can be trusted; 73 per cent said so for Obama and 65 per cent for George W. Bush at this point in their presidencies.

On the specific question of how Trump has dealt with North Korea, 46 per cent say he has been about right in his posture, 37 per cent say he is too aggressive and 7 per cent say he is too cautious.

On most questions about his performance or characteristics, Trump receives more negative than positive ratings. The most notable exception is his effort to pressure US companies on the issues of keeping jobs at home, where 73 per cent of Americans approve, including 54 percent of Democrats.

Another issue where the public sides with Trump rather than his critics is whether it is a conflict of interest for Trump to spend time at his own properties. A 54 per cent majority say he has the right to travel where he wants to go. But on another question, about six in 10 Americans say they disapprove of the major White House roles Trump has given to his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Trump has net negative ratings on such questions as temperament - just as he did during the campaign - as well as on judgment to serve as president, and on whether he operates from a consistent set of principles. He has said he likes to be unpredictable.

Half disapprove of the major changes he has proposed for government spending, while nearly six in 10 say he is out of touch with the concerns of most people. But on this question, the public is even harsher in judging the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

Democrats have lost considerable ground on this front. The 28 percent who say the party is in touch with concerns of most Americans is down from 48 per cent in 2014 and the biggest drop is among self-identified Democrats, from 83 per cent saying they are in touch to 52 per cent today. That is a reminder that whatever challenges Trump is having, Democrats, for all the energy apparent at the grass roots, have their own problems.

The Post-ABC survey reveals a persistent gender gap, with women generally more negative toward the president than men, including double-digit gaps on Trump's attributes such as honesty and temperament. Just over one-third of women (35 per cent) approve of the way he is handling the job of president, compared with 48 per cent of men. Even fewer women, 29 per cent, say they approve of the changes he is proposing for government spending, compared with 45 per cent of men.

Despite the public's skepticism of Trump's first 100 days, the survey finds little evidence that voters would render a different verdict from last November, when Trump won key states needed to secure victory in the electoral college despite Clinton winning more votes nationwide.

The new survey finds 46 per cent saying they voted for Clinton and 43 per cent for Trump, similar to her two-point national vote margin. Asked how they would vote if the election were held today, 43 say they would support Trump and 40 per cent say Clinton.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted April 17-20 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults interviewed on cellular and landline phones. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.