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Many in U.S. Skeptical Trump Can Handle Presidential Duties

Many in U.S. Skeptical Trump Can Handle Presidential Duties

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Less than half confident that Trump can handle several duties
  • Solid majorities were confident in Obama, Bush and Clinton
  • Greatest confidence in Trump's ability to handle economy, work with Congress

PRINCETON, N.J. -- As Donald Trump prepares to take the presidential oath on Jan. 20, less than half of Americans are confident in his ability to handle an international crisis (46%), to use military force wisely (47%) or to prevent major scandals in his administration (44%). At least seven in 10 Americans were confident in Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in these areas before they took office.

Confidence in Presidents-Elect to Handle Presidential Responsibilities
Now I'd like you to think about [...]'s ability to handle a number of things over the next four years. Please tell me whether you are very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident or not at all confident that [...] can ... ?
  Trump Obama Bush Clinton
  % % % %
Prevent major scandals in his administration 44 74 77 n/a
Handle an international crisis 46 73 71 70
Use military force wisely 47 71 78 n/a
Manage the executive branch effectively 53 84 77 n/a
Defend U.S. interests abroad as president 55 75 n/a 65
Handle the economy effectively 59 n/a n/a n/a
Work effectively with Congress to get things done 60 89 74 n/a
% Very/somewhat confident; poll dates: Trump (Dec. 7-11, 2016); Obama (Jan. 9-11, 2009); Bush (Jan. 15-16, 2001); Clinton (Nov. 10-11, 1992, and Jan. 8-11, 1993)

Americans express somewhat more confidence in Trump to work effectively with Congress (60%), to handle the economy effectively (59%), to defend U.S. interests abroad as president (55%), and to manage the executive branch effectively (53%). But even in these areas, Americans are far less confident in Trump than they were in his predecessors, when comparisons are available.

The results for Trump are based on a Dec. 7-11 Gallup poll. They are consistent with prior Gallup polling showing Trump having a much lower favorable rating than prior presidents-elect and a much lower approval rating for how he has handled his presidential transition.

The deficits for Trump versus the average for his predecessors range from a low of 15 percentage points on defending U.S. interests abroad to a high of 32 points for preventing major scandals.

Deficit in Confidence for Trump vs. Prior Presidents-Elect to Handle Presidential Responsibilities
  Trump Average for Obama, Bush and Clinton Trump deficit
  % % pct. pts.
Prevent major scandals in his administration 44 76 -32
Use military force wisely 47 76 -29
Manage the executive branch effectively 53 81 -28
Handle an international crisis 46 71 -25
Work effectively with Congress to get things done 60 82 -22
Defend U.S. interests abroad as president 55 70 -15
% Very/somewhat confident; confidence in handling economy not asked about prior presidents

Among the seven issues tested in the poll, Americans are most confident in Trump to work effectively with Congress (60%) and handle the economy (59%). Trump will have the benefit of working with Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, Obama and Bush -- both of whom also took office with a friendly Congress -- engendered even greater confidence than Trump in this area.

Trump's business background may contribute to Americans' relatively positive expectations for his presidential performance on the economy. The economy was also a relative issue strength for Trump during the campaign.

Democrats Have Little Confidence in Trump

Relatively few Democrats express confidence in Trump to handle the various presidential responsibilities, from a low of 14% for preventing scandals to a high of 35% for working effectively with Congress. Meanwhile, between 77% and 90% of Republicans are confident in the president-elect, expressing greater confidence in his ability to handle the economy and work with Congress, and less in his being able to prevent scandals.

Confidence in Donald Trump to Handle Presidential Responsibilities, by Political Party
  All Republicans Independents Democrats
  % % % %
Work effectively with Congress 60 89 60 35
Handle economy effectively 59 90 62 29
Defend U.S. interests abroad 55 85 58 22
Manage executive branch effectively 53 87 54 20
Use military force wisely 47 84 44 17
Handle an international crisis 46 81 45 17
Prevent major scandals 44 77 46 14
% Very/Somewhat confident
Gallup, Dec. 7-11, 2016

The deficits in Trump's ratings relative to his predecessors' are largely because of the low scores he gets from supporters of the opposing party. On average, 21% of Democrats have confidence in Trump across the five presidential duties for which Americans also rated Bush and Obama (all except handling the economy and defending U.S. interests abroad). By contrast, for the same five areas, an average of 60% of Republicans were confident in Obama and an average of 57% of Democrats were confident in Bush. These data underscore the much more polarized partisan environment in which Trump will be taking office.

Trump also fares much worse among independents on the same five tasks (50%) than Obama (79%) and Bush (75%) did.

Confidence in Trump among his own party's supporters (84%) is closer to that of Obama (94% among Democrats) and Bush (95% among Republicans), but still trails their levels by a significant margin.


Trump defied political experts as well as some historical election patterns in winning the presidency. Emerging the victor in a contentious campaign featuring two of the least well-liked candidates in modern presidential election history, Trump prepares to take office with a majority of Americans viewing him unfavorably. Trump is also much less well-liked than any recent president-elect.

As such, the public is much less confident in Trump than in his predecessors to handle several of a president's major tasks, including dealing with challenging foreign policy matters such as handling an international crisis or using U.S. military force.

Trump's opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, also has high unfavorable ratings, and the public most likely would have had similarly low expectations of her ability to handle these situations had she won.

In addition to their personal feelings about Trump, Americans' lower confidence in him may also stem from the public's generally low level of trust in government. Americans' trust in the federal government to handle international and domestic problems is worse now than it was when Bush and Obama took office. Also, their confidence in the institution of the presidency remains below the historical average, though it is higher now than the record lows it registered at the end of the Bush administration.

The high political polarization and low trust in government have created a public opinion context that is much more challenging for Trump than it was for those who preceded him in the Oval Office. It appears likely that Trump will begin his administration with far less support from the American people than other recent presidents have.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 7-11, 2016, with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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