One of the first polls published after the midterm elections gives President Trump low marks in an area where he has been viewed negatively since the days before he occupied the Oval Office: race relations.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling race relations, according to the most recent Quinnipiac University poll (59 percent approve to 36 percent who approve). The group that gives him the highest markes are Republicans, with 76 percent. White men are the next highest, with half approving of Trump’s handling of race relations.
Democrats as a whole disapprove the most — 93 percent — with how the president is handling race relations. Black Americans are a close second, with 91 percent disapproving.
The survey is one of the first major collections of data following the 2018 midterms. The university surveyed more than 1,000 voters across the country from Nov. 14 to 19.
Race became a major theme of the midterms — and continues to be, as several races remain uncalled. Trump had appeared to lean on hip-hop artist Kanye West, and he questioned why he and the GOP failed to win the black vote. Reports stated that hate crimes were on the rise. And racial identity was a common conversation topic for those wondering what decisions voters would make on Election Day.
But voters’ confidence that Trump could be a leader to guide these important conversations remained low. The number of Americans disapproving of Trump’s handling of race relations in the most recent poll was about the same as the last two recent polls: 58 percent in July and 61 percent in June. And that could be because of how the president handled race during the midterms.
Former congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Florida gubernatorial race. Gillum had been on the receiving end of attacks from a white-supremacist group and from his opponent, and he noted the racially tense political climate that Trump helped create. In his quest to become Florida’s first black governor, Gillum sometimes found himself as the object of jabs from Trump.
“I have not called the president a racist, but there are racists in his sympathizers who believe he may be, which is why they go to his aid, which is why he has provided them cover. I believe his cover has led to much of the degradation in our political discourse,” he said earlier this month on CNN’s “New Day."
And Trump called Stacey Abrams unqualified in her race against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp despite her education and political experience. Some critics thought the president’s attacks on Abrams, who hoped to become America’s first black female governor, were discriminatory based on her race and gender. The criticism fit a larger narrative about Trump’s treatment of black women — from politicians to journalists to his former staffers.
Americans' views of Trump’s role in race relations will continue to be shaped by midterm races. His defense of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who has been called unfit to lead Mississippi after she stepped into racial controversies in her runoff, reinforced the idea held by some black Americans that the president is insensitive to issues affecting black Americans. After the lawmaker came under fire for comments related to lynching, Trump said it was sad to see her criticized for remarks said in jest.
As Trump moves forward with a new Congress — and one that is more diverse than ever — opportunities will surface and allow him to work on issues of great importance to the country’s minority groups. As of now, his approval numbers among people of color are even lower than his overall numbers, after he asked black and Latino voters what they had to lose by voting for him in 2016. So far, based on how Americans view the president’s ability to address the most pressing racial issues of our time, the answer seems to be “a lot.”
Correction: The headline of an earlier version of this post said Trump’s approval rating on race relations had hit 60 percent. It is 59 percent in the Quinnipiac poll.