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Trump Disapproval Rooted in Character Concerns

Trump Disapproval Rooted in Character Concerns

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 65% of Trump disapprovers give personality and character explanations
  • For Obama in July 2009, 65% cited issue and policy explanations
  • Those who approve of Trump are more mixed in their reasons

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans who disapprove of how Donald Trump is handling his job as president primarily base their views on his character and personality. By contrast, U.S. adults who disapproved of Barack Obama's job performance in July 2009, during his first year in office, focused mainly on his policies and stances on issues. In mid-2001, Americans who disapproved of George W. Bush were significantly more likely to explain their views with broad or general negative evaluations of his job performance.


Why do you disapprove of the way [Trump/Obama/Bush] is handling his job as president? (Broad Categories)
Based on those who said they disapprove of the way the president is handling his job
  Trump, 2017 Obama, 2009 Bush, 2001
  % % %
Broad performance evaluations 12 15 43
Issues/Specific policies 16 65 31
Personality/Personal characteristics 65 14 17

These responses are based on questions Gallup asked in the summer of each president's first year in office. Americans who either approved or disapproved of the president's job performance explained their reasoning in their own words. Trump is the least well-evaluated of the three, with a 38% approval, 56% disapproval rating in the July 5-9 survey. At the comparable time in 2009, Obama's image was essentially the mirror opposite, at 58% approval and 36% disapproval, while Bush's in 2001 was 52% approval and 34% disapproval.

Trump's unique personal style, brashness and disregard for conventional political norms and discourse -- while clearly a negative for many during the campaign -- helped him stand out from other Republican contenders and ultimately contributed to his victory in November. Six months into his presidency, these same characteristics remain prominent in the minds of his detractors and remain the most frequently cited reasons as to why the majority of Americans think he is not doing a good job.

At the comparable early point in his presidency, Obama was in a unique situation, although not of his own making: dealing with the aftermath of the financial crisis and recession. Most of those who disapproved of Obama in July 2009 said it was due to his stance on issues and his handling of the economic crisis -- including spending too much, relying too much on government solutions for economic problems and turning the nation toward socialism. Few mentioned his character or personality traits.

Those who disapproved of George W. Bush in mid-2001, before 9/11, were more general in their reasons for their negative views of the way he was handling his job.

The detailed explanations given by those disapproving of Trump appear in the table below. Those citing his character and personality are most likely to name his temperament, arrogance and tendency to act "nonpresidential." Others comment on his inexperience and offer explanations pertaining to his self-focus, Twitter use and perceived untrustworthiness.

Those who base their disapproval of Trump on his stances on issues are most likely to mention their generic disagreement, as well as his policies on foreign affairs and healthcare. But none of these is mentioned by more than 4% of disapprovers.

Why do you disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job as president? (Detailed Categories)
Based on those who said they disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job
  % Mentioned
Character/Personality-related 65
Not presidential/Bad temperament/Arrogant/Obnoxious 29
Inexperienced/Doesn't know what he is doing 10
Looking out for himself/Doesn't consider people's needs 6
Use of social media/Twitter 6
Untrustworthy 6
Racist/Sexist 3
Not knowledgeable 3
Wishy-washy 2
Issue/Policy-related 16
Disagree with his policies (nonspecific) 4
Disapprove of his handling of foreign affairs 4
Disapprove of his healthcare policies 3
Favors the rich 2
Needs to unify the country 1
Disapprove of his environmental policies 1
Disapprove of his handling of the economy 1
Broad performance evaluations 12
Disagree with what he is doing/Doing a poor job 7
Not fulfilling his campaign promises/All talk and no action 3
Trying to do too much 1
Doesn't have qualified advisers/staff 1
Other 8
No opinion 1
Gallup, July 5-9, 2017

Reasons for Approving of Trump Similar to Obama

Americans who approve of the job Trump is doing offer much less specific reasons than those who disapprove. Explanations for supporting Trump are distributed more evenly across the three categories -- personality, issues and broad performance evaluations. Additionally, in sharp contrast to the reasons cited by disapprovers, Trump approvers give explanations that are similar to those given by Obama approvers in 2009. Bush's supporters in 2001 were even more likely to give broad, general explanations, as was the case for his detractors.

Why do you approve of the way [Trump/Obama/Bush] is handling his job as president? (Broad Categories)
Based on those who said they approve of the way the president is handling his job
  Trump, 2017 Obama, 2009 Bush, 2001
  % % %
Broad performance evaluations 38 41 50
Issues/Specific policies 33 40 9
Personality/Personal characteristics 24 15 24

The most frequently mentioned explanations for approving of Trump's job performance are general statements that he is doing the best he can under difficult circumstances, and that he is keeping his promises and doing what is best for the country. Some mention his work on job creation and the economy, but these appear with relatively low frequency.

Arguably, Trump's most visible focus as president has been on policies dealing with terrorism and immigration, but few mention those areas as the reason for their support. Among those approvers mentioning his personality traits, the most frequently cited responses are that he shows strong leadership and that he is not part of the Washington establishment. (Detailed responses appear in the table below.)

In short, the core group of about four in 10 Americans who like what Trump is doing as president are quite general when asked to give their reasons, suggesting that this group -- mostly Republicans -- may approve as much because Trump is a president from their party as any highly specific element of Trump's personality or accomplishment.

Why do you approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president? (Detailed Categories)
Based on those who said they approve of the way Trump is handling his job
  % Mentioned
Broad performance evaluations 38
Doing a good job/best he can under difficult circumstances 12
Keeping his promises 11
Does what is best for America 10
Better than Obama 4
Willing to give him a chance 1
Issue/Policy-related 33
Creating job opportunities/Bringing jobs back to America 6
Agree with his policies/actions (nonspecific) 5
Active/Taking on many issues 5
Economy is getting better/Fixing the economy 5
Handling of immigration/terrorism 4
Trying new, different things/Changing things 4
Foreign policy 2
Conservative 2
Character/Personality-related 24
Doesn't back down/Shows strong leadership 9
Not part of the Washington establishment/Not a politician 7
Transparent/Straightforward with the people 3
Honest/Has integrity 3
Intelligent/Smart 1
Like his handling of the media 1
Other 3
No opinion 1
Gallup, July 5-9, 2017

Bottom Line

These results make it abundantly clear that Trump's unique style, flouting of convention and non-normative patterns of White House behavior are driving his high disapproval ratings among the American public -- rather than disagreement with his policies or issue stances. The results also show that these same traits are not highly likely to be mentioned by those who approve of the job he is doing. His supporters instead give a mix of broad explanations for their approval, not unlike what Obama's supporters said about him in 2009.

Trump has not changed his behavior or style since taking office, making it appear unlikely that he will do so in the months and years ahead. That, in turn, suggests it is unlikely that the majority of Americans who disapprove of his job performance will change their minds about him -- unless he manages to pull off dramatic domestic or international accomplishments that overshadow his behavior in the minds of his detractors.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Explore President Trump's approval ratings in depth and compare them with those of past presidents in the Gallup Presidential Job Approval Center.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 5-9, 2017, with a random sample of 1,021 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 70% cellphone respondents and 30% 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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