The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A new poll shows voters aren’t buying what Trump is selling

President Trump in Washington on Sept. 4. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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President Trump inherited more than $400 million from his father and invested in one failed business after another. Trump must be the only person in the world who can’t make money off steaks, vodka or gambling. He would have been better off putting his money into an index fund.

Now he has brought his reverse Midas touch to politics. Despite a booming economy, he is the only president in modern history never to achieve at least a 50 percent job approval rating. He inherited a Republican-controlled Congress and in his first midterm election lost control of the House. It’s not just that Trump is personally unpopular. So are his views. On issue after issue, the country rejects the populist snake oil that he is peddling.

Trump breathlessly and endlessly touts the economy, claiming it’s “doing GREAT,” yet in a recent Quinnipiac poll, more Americans said the economy is getting “worse” (37 percent) than say it’s getting “better” (31 percent).

Trump opposes any attempt to strengthen lax gun laws, even refusing to back universal background checks. Yet Gallup reports that support for stricter gun laws (now at 61 percent) has reached one of its highest level in a quarter-century.

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Trump is indifferent to environmental protection or the need to address global warming. Yet the Pew Research Center reports that the public supports making environmental protection (56 percent) and climate change (44 percent) a top priority.

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Trump is a fanatical nativist who has made opposition to nonwhite immigration a centerpiece of his administration, yet Pew finds that 62 percent think that immigrants strengthen our country, compared with only 28 percent who think they are a burden. That’s a major shift from a quarter-century ago: In 1994, 31 percent saw immigrants as a boon and 63 percent as a hindrance. The rise in support for immigration predates Trump — but he hasn’t reversed the trend despite all of his fearmongering about an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants.

A new survey released Monday from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reinforces these findings and extends them into foreign policy and trade policy. Trump is an isolationist at heart, but the survey shows the American public is becoming more, not less, supportive of foreign engagement. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed think that the United States should take “an active part in world affairs.” One of the only times in the past 45 years that support for international engagement has been higher was in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Trump views NATO as a rip-off, yet 73 percent of the public thinks NATO is essential to U.S. security — up from 65 percent when Trump was elected.

The public has similarly rejected Trump’s protectionism. The percentage of Americans who think that international trade is good for the U.S. economy has risen to an astonishing 87 percent — a whopping increase of 28 points since Trump was elected. For all of Trump’s vilification of U.S. trade partners, overwhelming majorities favor trade with Germany (87 percent), Japan (87 percent) and Mexico (83 percent). Seventy-four percent even support trade with China, despite — or because of — Trump’s trade war.

The Chicago Council survey also confirms public rejection of Trump positions on immigration (81 percent want a pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants; only 23 percent want to separate immigrant children from parents) and climate change (51 percent support steps to address the problem even if they involve “significant costs”).

George Luber, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's climate and health program, is in professional limbo for simply doing his job. (Video: The Washington Post)

Those top-line findings, however, mask a bitter and growing partisan split on many issues. With the help of the conservative media industrial complex, Trump is brainwashing Republicans despite his breaks with decades of Republican orthodoxy on trade, immigration, alliances and other issues. The Chicago Council found that the number of Republicans who view immigration as a threat has risen to 78 percent from 67 percent in 2016, while the number who view China as a threat has increased to 54 percent from 41 percent in 2017. A bare majority of Republicans (51 percent) now support a U.S. leadership role in the world, down from 57 percent in 2015. And only 23 percent of Republicans view climate change as a threat.

It is deeply unfortunate that Trump is dragging Republicans deeper into the fever swamps of climate denialism, nativism, protectionism and isolationism. The good news is that, according to Gallup, Republicans make up only 27 percent of the electorate, a figure that grows to 40 percent if you add in Republican-leaning independents. The rest of the country is repulsed by the president and his odious views.

Democratic presidential candidates — many of them as protectionist and hostile to global leadership as Trump is — should take note: The electorate wants more, not less, engagement in the world. The public’s rejection of Trumpism gives me some hope that we can recover from this disastrous presidency — especially if it ends on Jan. 20, 2021.

Read more:

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Greg Sargent: Americans are growing more accepting of immigrants. Take note, Democrats.

Paul Waldman: Trump’s ultimate immigration failure

Eugene Robinson: Trump’s claim that he supports legal immigration turns out to be a lie

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