Almost exactly six years to the day after Donald Trump tweeted that “I believe America can be great only with proper leadership,” Quinnipiac University released a new poll Wednesday showing that American voters gave President Trump his lowest ratings since the election on a question about leadership skills.
In response to a question that asks “would you say that Donald Trump has good leadership skills, or not,” just 34 percent of American voters said yes and 63 percent said no, a precipitous fall from the 56 percent who answered in the affirmative in the weeks after he was elected.
The last time Quinnipiac asked the question, in late June, 44 percent answered positively, while 39 percent said yes earlier in June, which had been the lowest figure after the election until this week. Other numbers in the poll about individual traits were described as “alarming” by a Quinnipiac official, with just 26 percent saying he is levelheaded and 34 percent saying he is honest.
The latest Quinnipiac poll was taken between July 27 and Aug. 1, at the end of another chaotic week for the White House — one that had the president publicly criticizing his “beleaguered” attorney general, giving a politically charged speech to the Boy Scouts that was widely panned as inappropriate, failing to notch a win with the Senate's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and weathering a foul-mouthed tirade from his now former communications director. (And that's just the half of it.)
The Quinnipiac numbers came the same day another poll also showed declines in views of Trump's leadership. Each week, The Economist-YouGov poll asks Americans whether they view the president as a strong or weak leader. In March, 50 percent of the U.S. adults who responded said Trump was a “very strong” or “somewhat strong” leader; by the first Wednesday in August, it had ticked down to 47 percent. (The number who said the same shortly after the inauguration was 61 percent.)
A week before, a poll by the same group asked Americans about a number of Trump's management skills for the first time. A near-majority (48 percent) agreed he could “get people to do what he wants.” But the other numbers were lower, with just 31 percent agreeing he “hires the best people” and 35 percent saying he “fires people who need to be fired.” (A majority did agree he was a “successful businessman,” but that's more an outcome or a description than an individual trait or skill.)
Of course, there were differences along party lines: Only 12 percent of Democrats said Trump hires the best people, for instance, while 66 percent of Republicans did. Just 6 percent of Democrats, and 70 percent of Republicans, said Trump has good leadership skills in Quinnipiac's new poll. Yet 20 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans said Trump was a strong leader in the most recent results.
Taken together, the results are a reminder that while voters, on the whole, may disapprove of Trump's individual skills or traits — levelheadedness, his temperament, his honesty, his ability to hire the best people — a relatively higher number can still say he's a “strong leader.” That could be because the connotation of that phrase is unclear.
While some may think being a “strong leader” means being an effective one, or a leader who makes the best use of character traits and individual skills that help them do the job well, others likely consider the question as one about toughness or displaying a command-and-control style of running things.
Kathy Frankovic, a consultant who works with YouGov, said while she can't know what respondents were thinking, she could point to the high numbers U.S. adults in their poll that also say that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “strong leader.” Some 80 percent of Americans, their data show, said Putin was a “very strong” or “somewhat strong” leader in recent results, even if few viewed him favorably in the same poll. “It doesn't necessarily mean, if you think he's a strong leader, that you like him.”
Whatever it means to be a “strong leader,” voters have said it's important to them. According to a Morning Consult-Politico exit poll from the 2016 election, a greater share of voters picked strong leadership as the most important attribute for picking a president.