There’s one number from Fox News’s new national poll that, justifiably, has dominated people’s attention. Asked if President Trump is drawing Americans together or tearing the country apart, more than half — 56 percent — choose the latter option. That includes 59 percent of independents, 93 percent of Democrats and even 15 percent of Republicans.
Other numbers in the poll are less surprising. Most Americans continue to view Trump’s job performance negatively and view him personally in an unfavorable light. Even among his base, Republicans and the people who voted for him, positive views of his presidency have shifted downward over time. Fewer say they strongly approve of his performance, including a 12-point drop in that metric from people who picked him over Hillary Clinton last November.
Since April, the percentage of Republicans saying they’re “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the direction of the country has plummeted, after shooting up after Trump’s victory. Now, fewer Americans say they’re satisfied with the country’s direction than at any point in 2016, according to Fox News’s data.
This wasn’t what was supposed to happen, to hear Trump tell it on the campaign trail last year and in his public comments as recently as this month. He would reverse the trend of Americans thinking we were on the wrong path and he would get Americans to unite together.
So what happened?
We can get a clue if we look at a detail of that approval chart among Republicans and Trump voters.
Notice the light red line under “Republicans.” Since the last Fox poll, released late last month, the percentage of Republicans who somewhat disapprove of his job performance more than doubled, hitting 8 percent.
What’s changed? Well, Fox also asked respondents how they felt about Trump’s performance on various issues. On no issue did he receive a worse net approval (those who approve minus those who disapprove) than on race relations. Even among Republicans, only 50 percent approve of his performance on that divisive issue, his lowest score of those surveyed. Even among Trump voters, he’s only at 57 percent approval on race relations.
Between July and August, Charlottesville happened. And the issues it raised provide a good lens through which we can understand why Trump’s approval ratings are so low — and why most Republicans (but not all) stick with him.
Fox News asked if people felt that Trump respects racial minorities. Most Americans said he didn’t — but most Republicans said he did. (We’ve also added the much-watched “white voters without a college degree” to these charts for context.)
This split is interesting to watch. About 8 in 10 Republicans say he respects minorities, but 15 percent say he doesn’t. Same number as in the “tearing the country apart” question.
Trump voters and Republicans were also more likely to respond that they believe that minorities are treated with more favoritism in the U.S. than whites. Democrats were much more likely to say that whites receive more favoritism. Here, too, more than 7 in 10 Republicans say that either minorities receive more favor or that there’s parity; 16 percent say that whites receive more favor.
It’s very hard to extricate views of these issues from views of Trump in a chicken-egg sense. But there’s clearly correlation: That smaller group of Republicans is almost certainly the group that’s more likely to disapprove of his job performance. And after Trump’s broadly criticized response to Charlottesville, that likely explains some of the surge in disapproval. It was one thing to be indifferent about Trump before Charlottesville; it’s another to be indifferent after if you hold the positions above.
We see that very clearly in the question below: Who was to blame for the events in Charlottesville escalating to the moment when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counterdemonstrators?
A quarter of Republicans say the white supremacists were more to blame. Sixty percent, though, say that either both were equally to blame or that the counterdemonstrators were. Among both Republicans and Trump voters, more blamed the counterprotesters than the white supremacists.
Again: Chicken-egg. Had Trump blamed the white supremacists directly and not used the “many sides” language, would these numbers look the same? Or is Trump — the biggest Trump supporter there is — simply echoing the views of his base?
There’s clearly a symbiosis between the two that makes figuring out causality tricky. But that he’s so tightly aligned with his base and that his views reflect theirs even on divisive issues is not new to us anymore. It’s been the pattern from the outset of his presidency. Trump’s repeated refrain about unity has rarely been seen in practice, and his behavior in office continues to suggest that his mantra of unity is really a mantra of demanding that everyone like and respect him as president. He does things that appeal to his base and his base likes what he does, but some — likely more moderate Republicans — waver.
So: Most think he’s tearing the country apart. So: Most are increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the country. But less so in that core base. Most self-identified Trump voters in the poll — 96 percent of them — said they stood by their vote, a higher percentage than of Clinton voters who said the same. (One does wonder, though, what percentage of respondents were not forthcoming in who they voted for.)
One more fascinating detail worth picking out of the survey. Asked who Trump dislikes more, white supremacists or the media, nearly three-quarters of Americans said the media — including majorities of Trump voters and Republicans.
That’s a remarkable belief to hold about a president, though, obviously, it’s in keeping with the broad view that Trump doesn’t respect minority groups.
It’s also a function of his base’s views of the media (a group toward which I must admit some bias). Asked who’s a bigger threat to the country, the media or those white supremacists, most Republicans and Trump voters chose the press.
And with that, I’m left speechless.