The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Poll: Trump will take office as most unpopular president in at least 4 decades

President-elect Donald Trump speaks with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 13, 2017. (Evan Vucci/AP)

After a tumultuous campaign and transition, President-elect Donald Trump will take the oath of office Friday as the least-popular incoming president in at least four decades, but a majority of Americans nevertheless express optimism that he will be able to fulfill campaign pledges to boost the economy and deal with threats of terrorism, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Amid controversy and calls for additional investigations into possible Russian interference in the election, most Americans disapprove of Trump’s response to the hacking and other activities. But they are divided on the question of whether the president-elect has been too friendly toward Russia or taken the right approach in his public comments and posture.

On ethical matters, a bare majority say the steps Trump and his attorney outlined last week to turn over control of his sprawling business enterprise to his children create adequate separation while he serves as president. But the public is split almost evenly on whether he and his family are fully complying with federal ethics laws, and an overwhelming majority say he should release his federal tax returns, which he has long declined to do.

[ Read full Post-ABC poll results ]

The Post-ABC survey offers a starting point and a measuring stick for a Trump presidency. As in the campaign, Trump is a polarizing figure who generates great enthusiasm among those who support him and deep hostility among those who do not. Attitudes toward Trump, along with deep partisan divisions that predated his candidacy, provide the backdrop for Friday’s ceremonies at the Capitol and the opening days of the 45th president’s tenure.

On the eve of his inauguration, 44 percent of Americans say they believe Trump is qualified to serve as president, compared with 52 percent who say he is not. The good news for Trump is that the 52 percent figure is the lowest since he became a candidate.

Trump will enter the Oval Office on Friday with his image upside down. Just 40 percent say they have a favorable impression of him, and 54 percent view him unfavorably — with 41 percent saying they have a strongly unfavorable impression of him. That is starkly different from current views of President Obama, whose favorable rating is at 61 percent.

Compared with other presidents, Trump’s handling of the transition has been judged harshly by respondents. As with his favorable rating, 40 percent say they approve and 54 percent disapprove. In comparison, roughly 8 in 10 approved of the way Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush handled their transitions. And about 7 in 10 approved of the way former president George W. Bush handled his, even though it came amid the rancorous 37-day recount of ballots in Florida and a controversial Supreme Court decision that helped put him in the Oval Office.

Independents have not rallied behind Trump, a change from what has consistently been the case for past presidents. But another reason for Trump’s lower-than-average numbers is that some segments of his political base are less enthusiastic than might be expected. Only 56 percent of conservatives give him positive marks on the transition, and only 62 percent say they have a favorable impression of him.

The transition has been dominated by the intelligence community’s report that concluded the Russians were responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee and the private email of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, with the goal of helping Trump.

The Post-ABC poll finds that 64 percent of Americans believe that Russia was responsible for hacking Clinton campaign emails, and 45 percent think that was intended to boost Trump. More than 8 in 10 Democrats polled say the Russians were responsible, with three-quarters of all Democrats saying they believe that Moscow sought to undermine Clinton and aid Trump. Not quite half of the Republicans polled say the Russians were behind what happened, with about 1 in 5 saying they think the goal was to help the president-elect.

There are similar partisan divisions on Trump’s approach to the Russians. More than 2 in 3 Democrats say he is being too cozy in his treatment of Russia, while 3 in 4 Republicans say his posture has been about right — that from a party whose leaders have historically shown significant hostility toward that country.

On individual issues, however, the picture is strikingly different. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” has generated hope among many Americans that on economic issues at least he will be able to do just that.

Roughly 6 in 10 say they expect the New York businessman to do an excellent or good job in handling the economy and creating jobs. He has said repeatedly that both will be top priorities of his presidency. At the same time, he has stressed his determination to defeat the Islamic State and protect the country from threats of terrorism. The Post-ABC survey found that 56 percent of Americans say they think he will do a good or excellent job on that front.

On other issues, the outlook is less positive. The public appears about evenly divided on whether Trump will do well or not well in his nominations to the Supreme Court. Half of all Americans express optimism about how he will handle the federal budget deficit and help the middle class. Slightly more than half have negative views about how he would handle an international crisis and whether he can improve the health-care system.

His lowest ratings come on two areas that have been controversial since he first announced his candidacy in the summer of 2015: race relations and handling issues of concern to women.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they do not think he will do a good job on race relations. Those opinions came on a weekend in which Trump clashed with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon who had told NBC’s Chuck Todd that he did not regard Trump as a legitimate president because of Russian interference in the election.

Meanwhile, just over 6 in 10 say they do not think he will do a good job dealing with issues of special concern to women.

Trump’s policy agenda draws mixed assessments in terms of support or opposition. On immigration, for example, 6 in 10 Americans oppose his call for building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, one of the signature initiatives of his campaign. But over 7 in 10 support his call to deport roughly 2 million undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime, a continuation of Obama administration policy but with a faster pace of deportations.

Majorities oppose his campaign recommendation to ban most Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country or the possibility of having the United States withdraw from the international treaty addressing climate change. A plurality of Americans say they oppose withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Americans are closely divided on repealing the Affordable Care Act, with 46 percent in support and 47 percent opposed, according to the survey. Two-thirds of repeal supporters say this should not occur before a replacement is created.

Where Trump finds support is on some of his economic initiatives. The Post-ABC poll finds small majorities support both his call to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and taking punitive action against companies that shift jobs from the United States to other countries. On taxes, majorities of Americans support cuts for the middle class and those with lower incomes and oppose cuts for higher-income taxpayers, while the public is split about evenly over cutting business taxes.

One pattern first seen during the presidential campaign continues to shape attitudes as Trump prepares to become president: a division among white Americans based on levels of education. In general on questions in the new poll, whites without college degrees expressed considerably more support for Trump than whites with college degrees.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.