In a nationally representative poll conducted a few weeks ago, we find people who supported Trump in 2016 mostly believe he has kept his campaign promises on core issues such as immigration and trade policies. At the same time, our poll found, Democratic challenger Joe Biden is having the most success attracting 2016 Trump voters who believe the president broke his promises.
However, we also find that, no matter whether a respondent is a Republican, independent or even a Democrat, those who watch Fox News on a daily basis are more likely to believe Trump has delivered on his promises.
How we did our research
We interviewed 2,574 registered voters on a variety of political issues. The survey was implemented by YouGov and fielded between Sept. 21 and 29. We weighted the data to 2018 American Community Survey benchmarks for age, gender, ethnicity, education and region.
We asked respondents: “How well do you think President Trump delivered on the following campaign promises he made in 2016?” We asked respondents to evaluate these five campaign promises: 1) build the wall, 2) clean the swamp, 3) fix trade policy with China, 4) fix illegal immigration, 5) repeal and replace Obamacare.
What Trump promised four years ago
The promises that seemed to resonate the most in 2016 included having tougher immigration and trade policies, and eliminating corruption in Washington, D.C., (“draining the swamp”). Trump has imposed tariffs on foreign goods and limits on legal immigration, but did not complete the border wall, a signature component of his promise to fix illegal immigration.
Trump is working hard to claim credit for his trade policies, however. Between Sept. 28 and Oct. 11, trade issues were the fourth-most common theme in Trump-sponsored ads on television.
Who is (un)impressed by Trump’s record?
On average, we found people who voted for Trump in 2016 thought the president broke fewer than one of the five promises listed. Respondents who had voted for Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, said that Trump broke 4.3 promises.
As the figure below shows, the distribution of opinions is quite polarized. In addition, we do not observe greater skepticism about Trump’s policy record among Trump voters with higher educational attainment.
We also discovered the media may play a role in managing expectations of the president’s record. It is among frequent viewers of Fox News that we find the respondents who are most impressed with Trump’s record. The 2016 Trump voters who watch Fox News every day perceived an average of only 0.4 broken promises. (People who voted for Trump four years ago but said they watched Fox less than once a week reported Trump has broken 1.02 promises, on average.)
Conversely, the view that Trump failed to deliver on his promises was especially strong among Clinton voters who watch MSNBC on a daily basis: In this group, the number of perceived broken promises reached 4.7 out of the 5 core promises. Of course, there’s an important caveat: The relationship between news consumption and opinions is not necessarily causal.
What role does social media play?
We also wanted to find out whether exposure to political information on social media translated into differing evaluations of Trump’s first term. To answer this question, we compared the perceptions of Trump’s accomplishments among respondents who said they frequently saw political information posted by friends or acquaintances, news organizations and from politicians or political campaigns in their Facebook feed to perceptions among respondents who told us that they rarely or never saw political information on Facebook.
We observed that among respondents who see a lot of politics in their feeds, the average number of perceived broken promises was 2.8. On the flip side, among those people whose connections (and followed pages) rarely post political content on Facebook, respondents believed, on average, that Trump had broken 2.6 of his five key promises. These results suggest exposure to political content on Facebook doesn’t dramatically alter how people view the sitting president.
How Trump’s track record will affect the 2020 vote
For his 2016 supporters, does disappointment with Trump’s record correlate with voter intention to defect in 2020? We find among 2016 Trump voters who thought the president broke 4 or more of the promises in our study, about a half indicated they would vote for Biden in 2020.
By contrast, only 2 percent of Trump 2016 voters who thought Trump broke three or fewer promises said they would switch their allegiance and vote for Biden.
Trump voters believe Trump kept his promises, mostly
By and large, Trump voters appear to believe Trump has kept most of his promises. They also approve of Trump’s handling of the covid-19 pandemic: 86 percent of 2016 Trump voters told us they thought Trump’s handling of the pandemic was “good” or “excellent.”
The proportion of 2016 Trump voters abandoning the president this year will almost surely be small. But our survey suggests one predictor of defection is the perception the president didn’t meet the expectations he created for himself four years ago.
Jan Zilinsky (@janzilinsky) is a PhD candidate in the New York University Department of Politics and a research associate at the NYU Center for Social Media and Politics.
Jonathan Nagler (@Jonathan_Nagler) is a Professor in the Wilf Family Department of Politics and a co-director of the Center for Social Media and Politics at NYU.