July 22, 2018 at 7:00 AM
But public reaction nationally appears more muted than in Washington, where Trump faced withering bipartisan criticism for appearing to side with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies at a July 16 news conference in Helsinki. Most Americans do not think Trump went “too far” in supporting Putin, and while more Americans say U.S. leadership has gotten weaker under Trump, his ratings on this question are slightly improved from last fall.
The findings indicate that while Trump was judged critically for his summit performance, the event has not at this time proved to be a significant turning point in his presidency, despite the sharp criticism he received in the hours and days after the meeting and the multiple efforts by White House officials and the president to clarify his remarks in Helsinki. The poll results suggest that overall attitudes toward the president have hardened on both sides and that major events produce only modest changes in his overall standing, if any.
The Post-ABC poll conducted Wednesday through Friday finds that overall, 33 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of his meeting with Putin while 50 percent disapprove. A sizable 18 percent say they have no opinion. A slightly larger 56 percent disapprove of Trump expressing doubts about U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. On both questions, those who say they “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s performance outnumber those who say they “strongly approve” by better than 2 to 1.
Trump’s ratings for handling the summit represent a weakened moment for him, but they are not markedly worse than ratings of his presidency overall in other recent polls. A Washington Post-Schar School poll earlier this month, for instance, found 43 percent approved of Trump’s job performance while 55 percent disapproved, with strong disapproval outpacing strong approval by roughly 2 to 1.
The new Post-ABC poll finds 40 percent saying Trump went “too far” in supporting Putin, a criticism that was voiced by both Democrats and Republicans in Washington over the past week.
However, almost as many — 35 percent — say Trump handled Putin “about right,” while an additional 15 percent say he did not go far enough to support Putin. The rest have no opinion. Democrats, liberals and college graduates are the only groups in the poll among whom a majority say Trump went too far in supporting Putin.
Partisans split in their ratings of Trump’s meeting with Putin, but Republicans are less united in support for Trump than in other recent polls about his presidency. Among Democrats, 83 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of the meeting, while among Republicans, 66 percent approve of Trump’s performance. By way of comparison, in the Post-Schar School survey, 87 percent of Republicans said they approved of Trump’s overall job performance as president.
A bare majority of Republicans in the new poll — 51 percent — approve of Trump expressing doubts about U.S. intelligence conclusions on Russian election interference. But a smaller 31 percent disapprove, with 18 percent offering no opinion. Among Democrats, 78 percent disapprove of what Trump said about U.S. intelligence findings, as do 59 percent of independents.
Independents lean negative on Trump’s handling of the summit overall, with 33 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving. Self-identified “moderates” are particularly negative, with 64 percent disapproving of how Trump handled the meeting, nearly as high as 73 percent among liberals. A smaller 58 percent majority of conservatives approve of Trump’s conduct at the summit.
The Post-ABC poll finds that 47 percent say that under Trump, America’s leadership in the world has gotten weaker, vs. 30 percent who say it has gotten stronger. That is an improvement on last November, when the margin between those who said weaker vs. those who said stronger was 27 percentage points.
Despite Republicans’ lukewarm support for Trump’s Helsinki performance, they express growing confidence in his ability to project U.S. strength around the world. A 74 percent majority of Republicans say American leadership has “gotten stronger” under Trump, up from 53 percent last November and 61 percent in July 2017. By contrast, 80 percent of Democrats say Trump has weakened U.S. leadership around the world.
On this question, independents lean more negatively than positively, with 22 percent saying America’s leadership has gotten stronger under Trump, 47 percent weaker and about one-quarter saying it has stayed the same.
College graduates had a much sharper negative reaction to the Helsinki summit than those without college degrees — college grads are 18 points more likely to disapprove of Trump’s performance (62 percent vs. 44 percent). Those without college degrees are nearly three times as likely to say they have no opinion of Trump’s performance.
In contrast to many surveys about the president and politics, the Helsinki poll produced only modest gender differences. Men were slightly less disapproving of the president’s handling of the summit than women, but the gap was not statistically significant.
Americans younger than 40 gave Trump lower marks for his overall handling of the summit than did those older than 40. But younger and older Americans tended to offer similar assessments to other questions.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted by landlines and cellphones from Wednesday through Friday among a random national sample of 464 adults. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of 5.5 percentage points, and the error margin is larger among subgroups.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.