New GW Battleground Poll Finds Widespread Public Concern About President Trump’s Behavior

August 24, 2017
Jason Shevrin: [email protected], 202-994-5631
John Brandt: [email protected], 202-994-3199
Democrats Hold Edge on Health Care, Climate Change; Slight Republican Advantage on Jobs and Economic Issues; GOP Leads on Defense, Trade
Majority Think Trump Campaign Staff Acted Improperly with Russia
WASHINGTON (Aug. 24, 2017)—There is widespread national concern about President Donald Trump’s public discourse and behavior, according to the latest George Washington University Battleground Poll. The survey, taken August 13-17, found a large majority of voters — 71 percent — agreed his “behavior is not what I expect from a president” (27 percent disagreed), and 68 percent agreed his “words and actions could get us accidentally involved in an international conflict” (29 percent disagreed).
Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of the registered voters polled said the country is on the wrong track, and a majority (56 percent) had an unfavorable view of President Trump (41 percent favorable). A similar number disapproved of the job he’s doing as president (55 percent), while 42 percent approved, and 56 percent also said he has not been effective as the president, while 39 percent said he has been effective. 
“The Battleground Poll data show that more Americans object to President Trump’s character than his agenda,” said GW Associate Professor of Political Management Michael Cornfield. “If there is anything approaching a consensus in today’s sharply divided America, it’s that Trump speaks and behaves inappropriately given the office he holds.”
When asked about his actions on current affairs, there was a small bright spot for President Trump. Half (50 percent) approve of his handling of the economy (46 disapprove). Foreign affairs were not as positive: 53 percent of voters surveyed disapproved of the president’s approach to relations with North Korea (43 percent approved). Half (52 percent) of voters agreed President Trump has been keeping his campaign promises (44 disagreed).
Negative Views of Congressional Leaders
Voters held congressional leaders in similarly low regard. Views of House Speaker Paul Ryan were unfavorable (48 percent) with only about a third viewing him positively (36 percent). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell received less praise than Speaker Ryan: 46 percent of voters view Sen. McConnell unfavorably, while only 19 percent see him favorably. On the other side of the aisle, half (50 percent) of poll respondents viewed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi unfavorably and a third (34 percent) were favorable towards her. Views of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were mixed (27 percent favorable, 29 unfavorable), although he had lower name recognition (29 percent had never heard of him).
Other legislators with national profiles fared better. John McCain, who cast the deciding vote against changing the Affordable Care Act in late July, enjoyed a considerably higher favorability rating of 53 percent, with 36 percent of those polled holding an unfavorable view of the Arizona senator. Former Democratic presidential candidate and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders had mostly favorable results (52 percent favorable, 39 unfavorable) and newly prominent California Sen. Kamala Harris received more positive responses than not (16 vs. 9 percent), but a majority (62 percent) had never heard of her. 
“In the 2016 election, a notable portion of the electorate had a negative impression of Trump but still voted for him. These voters decided the alternative was even worse or that they could endure some boorish behavior in exchange for substantial changes in Washington,” pollster Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group, said. “In the 2018 election, Republican candidates will have a similar opportunity to provide voters with both the opportunity to continue making changes for the better on issues that matter while avoiding the failed policies of the past that the Democrats will be offering.”
Parties Split on Most Issues; Health Care Opening for Democrats
The GW Battleground Poll hinted at possible congressional upheaval with the 2018 midterm elections. Slightly more survey respondents chose Democrats (46 percent) than Republicans (40) on a generic congressional ballot, and voters were evenly split on their current members of Congress (43 percent approve, 45 disapprove).
Of 10 issues listed in the survey, the two on which Democrats hold a lead in voter confidence were health care (52 percent to the GOP’s 35) and climate change (62 to 24). More than half (53 percent) of voters said it was a good thing Congress did not repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (41 percent said it was a bad thing), although slightly more people (35 percent) credited congressional Republicans with that inaction than Democrats (30) or the president (19).
Despite challenges with health care, the Republican Party held leads in voter confidence on trade (49 percent to Democrats’ 39) and national defense (55 to 36). Respondents were virtually split on party preference on immigration (43 percent more confident in Republicans, 49 in Democrats), tax reform (46/42), economic development (46/45) and North Korea (45/42). While the margins have closed, Republicans notably still lead on the issues of the economy (47/44) and job creation (46/43).
“With record low favorability and job approval marks, Donald Trump’s turbulent first six months in office have become an even more profound force for division and polarization than many thought possible,” pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, said. “Still, Trump’s missteps have not translated to unambiguous gains for the opposition party, with Democrats still desperately needing to establish more credibility on the central issue of jobs and the economy vis-à-vis the president and the Republican Party.”
Voters Say Campaign Acted Improperly, Low Attention on Russia Investigation
When asked their thoughts on the ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, most voters (a combined 55 percent) believed Trump campaign staffers behaved improperly. A plurality, 33 percent, thought Trump campaign staffers likely committed crimes. Another 22 percent thought campaign staffers acted unethically but not criminally. Only 36 percent of respondents said the president’s campaign staff behaved normally. 
The survey indicates a large amount of voters may not be closely following the ongoing investigations on the topic. When asked about their view of FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller, 40 percent of voters hadn’t heard of him. Of those who had, more viewed him favorably (28 percent) than not (14). 
For complete data and results, including favorability ratings for Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, visit the GW Battleground Poll homepage. Follow @GWmedia on Twitter for a deeper dive into the new GW Battleground Poll data.
Interview Opportunities
  • Michael Cornfield, research director and associate professor at GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (contact Jason Shevrin at 202-994-5631)
  • Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group (contact Brian Nienaber at 703-684-6688)
  • Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners (contact Anderson Gardner at 202-776-9066)
The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) serve as the university’s home for the partnership. GW’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library houses the data archive of the survey results dating back more than two decades.
The poll, which is distinguished from other surveys by its presentation of separate analyses from these top pollsters representing both sides of the aisle, surveyed 1,009 registered voters nationwide Aug. 13-17 and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.