President Trump’s low approval ratings are unprecedented for a president in his first month in office. So what, exactly, don't people like?
To find out we talked with eight political independents about their reasons for disapproving of Trump so early in his term and asked them whether they’re holding out any optimism going forward.
Across the interviews, independents shared a concern that Trump acts too quickly or erratically. Several also said that even if they did not agree with him, Trump was attempting to fulfill what he promised during the campaign.
(Note: The interviews are qualitative in nature and not statistically representative of all independents as a scientific survey, but they provide a more granular look at the real people behind those commonly cited statistics.)
Here's a closer look at how each of them viewed Trump.
Tom Barnett, an independent from Binghamton, N.Y., said he disapproves of Trump but not strongly, feeling the newly elected president is acting too quickly on some policies. “Sure you make promises, but he’s moving way too fast,” Barnett said. On the travel ban, Barnett said: “I think it’s too quick; he should have looked more into it. And deporting a lot of these people; I don’t think that’s right. Even if they did make a mistake in their lives.”
The 51-year-old Barnett also has problems with Trump’s media habits and temperament. “What the hell is he doing on Twitter and watching cable TV all the time?” he asked. “I don’t want a president watching cable TV all the time! That’s my job!”
“He’s got very thin skin,” Barnett said, “He can dish it out, but he can’t take it.”
Neville Braithwaite of Queens, N.Y., has been trying to give Trump a chance, but he said he is skeptical. “How are we supposed to trust him if they’re going to lie to us?” he asked about the Trump administration. He is somewhat disapproving of Trump’s overall performance and said trust issues have “cast a real shadow on the whole administration.”
“At least he’s keeping his word” on campaign promises, Braithwaite, 49, said. As a New York City resident, he has fond memories of Trump always “able to get things done, even with all the B.S. around him.”
When it comes to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Braithwaite appreciated that both presidents kept their promises to the people. However, he said he sees Trump as “such a wild card,” and he’s not sure what to expect.
Minneapolis-area mechanic Matthew Umsted, an independent who disapproved of Obama, sees Trump as a different type of president who might shake up a government he sees as “extremely corrupt.” “He’s a celebrity in my opinion, not a politician.”
But Umsted said he disapproves somewhat of Trump’s first weeks. “I don’t think he’s off to the best start,” he said, mentioning Trump’s seven-country travel ban as one policy that bothered him. “Is he taking account people’s lives? Generalizing everyone as a bad person if they’re not born in the U.S.”
While the 24 year-old did not criticize Trump as sharply as others we talked to, he was pessimistic about the path forward. “I think he’s attempting to get stuff done, but there’s no progress, and I don’t think there will be.” Lamenting a political system that revolves around money, Umsted said Trump is “trying to improve it for himself and his class.”
Stuart Dudley, an independent from Washington, N.C., said he disapproves somewhat of Trump’s performance so far. “It’s been one cluster after another,” the 69-year old said. “[They’re] trying to do away with [the Affordable Care Act], and they don’t have anything in place.”
He’s concerned about other issues as well. “Everything from our dealings with other countries, Mexico, illegal immigrants, trying to ban Muslims who are associated with countries where there have been no terrorists. I don’t think it’s been handled very well.” Dudley continued: “I think some of what he wants to do is illegal.”
To counter a lack of governmental experience, Dudley “was hoping [Trump] would surround himself with good people and rely on them.” But Dudley said he doesn’t think Trump has helped himself much with his chosen appointees: “Steve Bannon and the other ones. I just think they’re too radical in their whole way of thinking.”
But there are a few places where Dudley said he holds out hope that Trump will make a positive difference: “Job creation … and favorable tax things for small businesses.” And, he noted, “the stock market is up and fuel prices are down.” And Dudley has good things to say about the vice president: “I think Mike Pence is great. I think he’d make a much better president than Donald Trump would think. … He [is] a good, levelheaded, calming influence in the Trump administration.”
Looking back at the George W. Bush administration, Dudley said the Republican president did some good, despite bringing the country into a war he disagreed with. “I think [Bush] handled 9/11 fine. Other than that, we held an even keel there as far as the economy. We weren’t making great gains, but the deficit continued to decline,” he added, “but it did under Obama, too.”
John Abbott, a former math professor who lives outside Tahlequah, Okla., said he is dissatisfied with the way things are going under Trump but sees it more as “a hiccup” that will pass after Trump leaves office.
Abbott said he disagrees with many Trump policies, including what he sees as a “shortsighted immigration order,” along with building the pipeline, what he sees as “immediately kowtowing to the oil industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if we looked into his tax returns that are hiding, that he had a vested interest in those industries.” He’s also opposed to the wall Trump proposes on the Mexican border. “I’ve heard estimates of about $17 billion,” Abbott said. “To spend that kind of money building that wall, it seems like it’s really a Great Wall of Trump. And frankly, by my philosophy, we should welcome the stranger and the foreigner.”
Abbott said he sees Trump as “bigoted, misogynistic, self-righteous and puts himself above all others.” But he still said the Trump presidency is a short blip in a long time span: “He’ll make some right [decisions] and some wrong ones; we all do. But eventually it will all get sorted out.”
Dawn Robinson, a therapist from outside of Mobile, Ala., said she “quite strongly” disapproves of Trump. “[I’m] really unsure of what’s going to happen next. … A lot of the plans that [Trump] has are somewhat terrifying to me.” She cited Trump’s open-air discussion of a North Korean missile launch at Mar-a-Lago in proximity to members of the club. “That’s shocking to me that that could happen. It’s like a pay-per-view presidency.”
While there were few positive things she said she could think of about Trump’s presidency so far — other than that he’s trying to make good on his campaign promises — Robinson is not as flatly negative about the Bush presidency, saying she only somewhat disapproved of his time in the White House. “Obviously we had the financial crisis, that was frightening. But he started off okay.” One spot where Bush did well, according to Robinson, was with “his handling of 9/11; he helped people feel secure.”
But with Trump, the 44-year-old independent said she is scared: “He’s very impulsive, very ego driven. And it scares me, quite frankly.”
Pranav Prasannakumar is a college student at Hunter College in New York who disapproves strongly of Trump. “The Muslim ban,” for one example, and the lies that he said he sees coming out of the White House. “The whole 'alternative facts'? I can’t!”
“The only good thing I think about Trump are his views on repairing the infrastructure of the U.S. to create jobs, and low taxes,” he said. “But I think everything else going against American ideals.”
But that doesn’t mean the independent is opposed to all Republicans. He said he admires House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), for one: “I think Paul Ryan had a quote, what makes America great is that we share ideas, is that we debate and disagree and agree with things. That’s something that Trump lacks. He doesn’t care about any ideas that are against his.”
Even though the 21-year-old does not have strong memories of the Bush White House, Prasannakumar recollected that Bush did well not alienating Muslim Americans after 9/11, a skill that he wishes Trump held. Prasannakumar recalled: “[Bush said at the time] it’s not our Muslim brothers and sisters who are doing this, it’s the radicals, the terrorists. He really helped with unifying the country after the attack. I think that’s something he did really well.”
“We’re supposed to be a country where … we [are] welcoming people,” Prasannakumar said. “Like during the Holocaust, turning Jews away. I thought we learned from that and the Japanese internment camps. You don’t want history to repeat itself.”
Floyd Grabiel, a self-described independent but “last of the Rockefeller Republicans,” said he disapproves strongly of Trump. “It’s chaotic, it’s frightening,” he said of the transition period. “He’s packed his administration with Goldman Sachs and Wall Street people, he seems to have absolutely no idea what diplomacy means. … Every day there’s something new that bothers me about the guy.”
But Grabiel said he doesn’t think the same of all Republicans. The Edina, Minn., resident disagrees with comparisons of Trump to former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura; "[Ventura] also had a huge ego and was very thin-skinned, but he was a pretty decent governor because he knew what he didn’t know; he surrounded himself with great people.”
Trump, on the other hand, “thinks he knows it all and that’s a dangerous attitude to have.” To Grabiel, Ventura understood his limitations. “He didn’t upset the apple cart … and did a confident job as the executive of the state,” he said. “I have no reason to believe Trump will be the same kind of executive.”
“I love the country,” 70-year-old Grabiel concluded. “And I’m worried about it.”