President Trump’s weekend commentary on protests in the NFL was unsurprising in some respects. It’s certainly unusual for a president to weigh in repeatedly on what’s happening in professional sports, but we’ve come to expect the unusual from Trump. It was also unsurprising that Trump injected himself into a fraught political subject, standing firmly in opposition to those players who choose to kneel during the national anthem as an expression of their concern about racial divides in the country. Trump’s language was unequivocal in a way that he hasn’t been in response to other protests — such as those in Charlottesville last month.
Washington Post-ABC polling released Sunday suggests that, even before Trump inserted himself into the NFL protests, most Americans viewed him as a president who was doing more to divide the country than to unite it. About two-thirds of Americans felt that Trump, despite his insistent rhetoric that the country needs to unite, was, in fact, driving Americans apart. About 3 in 10 said Trump had helped unite the country.
We asked this same question shortly after the election, with dramatically different results. At that point, a plurality of Americans thought Trump was likely to do more to divide than to unite the country — but attitudes were about split.
Trump’s presidency itself, in other words, has made people feel as though he has done more to divide the country.
That holds true among most demographic groups. A majority of white Americans and a huge majority of black and Hispanic Americans think that Trump has done more to divide than to unite. (The sample size of African American respondents, we’ll note, was fairly small, meaning the margin of error is larger.) Only among Republicans, white evangelical Protestants and conservatives do a majority think that Trump has been more of a uniter.
But there’s an interesting detail that is worth noting. Among those who approve of Trump — 39 percent of respondents, far fewer than other recent presidents at this point in a presidency — about 1 in 5 think he has done more to divide than to unite. Even 1 in 7 of those who approve of Trump strongly seem him as more of a divider than a uniter.
Neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama ever had so many Americans view them as being so divisive. Bush’s worst marks on the question came in June 2005 in Post-ABC polling, when 55 percent of the country viewed him as doing more to divide than to unite. Obama’s worst numbers came in September 2014, when 55 percent viewed him as divisive. This was shortly after the protests in Ferguson, Mo., a period during which tensions over race relations were spiking.
There was some good news for Trump in the Post-ABC poll: Americans generally thought that he had done a good job handling the recent hurricanes that battered Texas, Louisiana and Florida. It was a moment of national unity.
The poll also suggests that people have come to expect such moments as the exception, not the norm.