The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

By a 3-to-1 margin, Trump supporters embrace his personality over his policies

President Trump speaks during an event on Monday in Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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If you spend any time with supporters of President Trump, something becomes quickly apparent. Ask them why they stand with the president and the first response will generally be something abstract: Trump is making America great again. He’s putting America first. He’s delivering for the people. After eight years of Barack Obama, Trump is turning things around. Some will mention the economy; fewer will mention other policy issues. But generally the theme is that they support Trump for being Trump.

Last August, the Pew Research Center asked Americans if they liked Trump and why. Of the minority that approved of Trump’s job performance, a majority — a bit under 60 percent — indicated that the rationale for their support stemmed from his personality and approach to the job vs. his policies or values. (Most of those who disapproved said they had nothing positive to point to about Trump’s performance.)

On Thursday, the pollsters released an updated version of that question. Once again, personality is preferred to policies among Trump supporters, with a slightly higher percentage pointing to policies and values than last year.

“Personality and approach” is a big bucket, including things like Trump’s willingness to do battle with political opponents, a factor in his presidency that receives a lot of attention. Pew broke out the categorizations above into smaller buckets, giving us a better sense of what Trump supporters mean when they say that it’s his personality and approach that motivates them.

So we see that for a third of Trump supporters, what they like most is his leadership and ability to “get things done.”

We highlighted the confrontational responses on that list. If we make them their own category, the percentage of Trump supporters who most like his economic policies is generally about the same as the percentage that likes to see him battle the media and Democrats, and to speak his mind.

These results broadly mirror the results of a Post-ABC poll conducted last July. That poll found that it was Trump’s leadership that a plurality of supporters found most appealing.

Pew’s survey was mostly meant to compare attitudes from before the election to how Americans see Trump now. The percentage of Americans who in 2016 expected Trump to set a high moral standard for his position was slightly higher than the percentage who now say that he has. Among Republicans, the change has been starkest, with a 20-point spread in favor of Trump being likely to set that standard winnowing down to a 4-point spread in 2018.

On the question of whether Trump has used his position to inappropriately enrich himself, his family or his friends, Republicans have gotten more confident in the president. They assumed he would not by a 41-point margin in 2016. They now believe he hasn’t by a 58-point margin.

Most Americans, however, think he hasn’t set a high moral standard and has worked to inappropriately enrich himself and his allies.

Interestingly, though, perceptions that Trump is dishonest are only the third-most common concern that people express about his presidency. The most common concern, like the most common reason that supporters like him, is his conduct and personality.

And, of course, his Twitter account.

In Wilkes-Barre, Pa., last month, I asked Jean Sickler, 71, how she would rate Trump’s presidency. She’d come to the rally with a homemade sign thanking Trump for getting the remains of U.S. armed service members repatriated from North Korea.

Jean gave Trump a 9 out of 10. What was that other single point, I asked? “A little bit of the things in his tweeting,” she replied, almost guiltily.

Only about a quarter of the country points to Trump’s policies as their main concern or reason to be enthusiastic about his presidency. More than half point to his personality and approach to the job as why they are or are not concerned about where his presidency is headed.

That in itself seems like a fair reflection of how Trump was considered in 2016, too.