A president’s job approval rating is the essential barometer of his popularity, but it can also be unsatisfying in its lack of specificity. What exactly are people thinking when they say they approve or disapprove of the way a president is handling his job?
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll sheds some light on the issue by asking Americans who approve and disapprove of President Trump what they like or dislike most about his presidency, which will reach its six-month mark Thursday. The question was open-ended, allowing respondents to say anything, with interviewers coding answers into one of many potential categories.
So what did they say? Start off with the 36 percent of Americans who approve of Trump. The most common answers for what they approve of most, named by 11 percent, include strong leadership and speaking his mind, with not being politically correct a close second, at 9 percent. In total, 30 percent of Trump approvers mentioned his overall leadership or personality traits when asked what they approve of most.
But a somewhat larger group of Trump approvers, 40 percent, mentioned a policy-related reason. About 7 percent said foreign affairs, while 6 percent apiece said the economy, creating jobs, preventing illegal immigration and keeping promises were the biggest factor in their approval. Slightly fewer mentioned fighting terrorism, his efforts on health-care legislation, and changes from President Barack Obama and Democrats or other issues.
Americans who disapprove of Trump — 58 percent in the Post-ABC poll — offered a different range of responses focusing more heavily on his personal and character traits. Topping the list of non-policy criticism is the way Trump talks and acts (13 percent), laments about him not being informed or knowledgeable (12 percent), while an additional 12 percent mentioned concerns about lies, false statements or general dishonesty. Among disapprovers who named issues as their biggest criticism, the most common were immigration (8 percent) and health care (7 percent), the travel ban at 3 percent and others at 2 percent or less.
Altogether, 46 percent of Trump disapprovers criticized something about his personality, honesty or style, while 25 percent mentioned a policy-related concern.
On an issue that could be considered policy or personality-focused (and was categorized as neither), just 4 percent of disapprovers said Russia or the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election was the thing they most disapproved of, despite the poll being conducted immediately after news broke about a meeting in June 2016 between a Russian lawyer and Trump’s eldest son, son-in-law and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The Post-ABC poll found some parallels between Americans who “strongly” approve or disapprove of Trump, groups that together account for nearly three in four adults. When asked what they approve or disapprove of most, 12 percent of strong approvers and 14 percent of strong disapprovers volunteered “everything.”
The Post-ABC poll was conducted July 10-13 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults reached on cellular and landline phones. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.