In the annals of dark clouds with silver linings, not many examples are as stark as the results for President Trump of a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend. The dark cloud is that, with his reelection campaign having just swung into full gear, Trump is still mired at 44 percent approval among voting-age Americans. The silver lining? It’s the highest approval he’s seen in Post-ABC polling during his presidency.
For the most part, those who disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president also disapprove of the way he’s doing it. Nearly two-thirds of registered voters indicated that they saw Trump’s behavior as president as unpresidential, compared with 29 percent who said that it had been fitting and proper.
The overlap on those two questions — how he’s doing and how he’s doing it — isn’t universal. Unsurprisingly, those who approve of Trump also are likely to see his behavior as appropriate to the office. There are a small number of respondents, 1 percent, who think Trump’s behaving in the typical manner for a president and don’t like what he’s gotten done.
There is a larger group, more than 1 in 8 voters, who think that Trump’s behavior isn’t suited to the office but approve of the job he’s doing anyway.
It’s an interesting balance, to view a president as being at times unpresidential and also a good president. We’ve seen in the past from other polling that some of those who approve of Trump’s presidency view his approach as precisely the reason why. His combativeness and willingness to buck convention was hardly a secret on the campaign trail, after all, and some voters expected precisely that in the White House. It’s not clear in the context of our poll the extent to which people see being unpresidential as a good thing, a mark of a willingness to defy norms.
What we can say is that most of that group would vote for Trump over former vice president Joe Biden, should the 2020 election come down to that matchup. Biden leads in our overall polling by a healthy margin, but Trump earns two-thirds of the vote among those who view his behavior as unpresidential but approve of the job he’s doing.
But one can look at those results the other way, too. About a third of this group says that it plans to vote for Biden, despite viewing Trump’s job performance with approval. By contrast, nearly all of those who both approve of Trump and view his behavior as typically presidential plan to support him next year. Changing only the view of how Trump acts costs the president a third of his support.
In part that’s a function of the differences between those two groups. Those who both approve of Trump and view him as behaving in a presidential way are more likely to identify as Republican or as a Republican-leaning independent than those who view Trump’s behavior as unpresidential. They’re also more likely to identify as conservatives. Interestingly, those who both approve of Trump and view his behavior as unpresidential are more likely to be men. (There’s no significant difference among the density of whites or those without a college degree.)
In other words, Trump’s probably faring worse with those who approve of him but view his behavior as unpresidential because members of that group are more independent and closer to the political middle. Would changing his behavior to more fully adhere to expectations of how a president behaves lure many of those voters back to his side? It’s hard to say.
It’s easy to say, though, that this is an unusual breakdown in political polling. Past presidents have been sufficiently assiduous about behaving in a presidential way, and asking whether people saw them as being presidential seemed moot. But it might, in recent years, have yielded something of a split: A majority of Republicans think Trump behaves in a presidential way, and nearly all Democrats say he doesn’t.
Two-thirds of independents hold the latter view, though some of them approve of his job performance anyway.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.