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Unlike Predecessors, Trump Rated Worse on Character Than Issues

Unlike Predecessors, Trump Rated Worse on Character Than Issues

Story Highlights

  • 34% say Trump has presidential personality and leadership qualities
  • 40% say they agree with Trump on issues that matter most
  • Obama, Bush always rated better on personality than issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More U.S. adults say they agree with Donald Trump on issues (40%) than say he has the personality and leadership qualities a president should have (34%). That is a departure from what Gallup measured for former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who consistently scored better on personality and leadership than on issue agreement when in office.


On average, Americans rated Obama better on personality than on issues by 14 percentage points, 60% to 46%. For Bush, the average was nine points higher on personality, 59% to 50%. Americans rate Trump lower on personality than on issues by six points.

The results for Trump are based on combined data from separate Gallup polls conducted June 7-11 and July 5-9.

Not surprisingly, given his job approval rating of 38% in the July 5-9 poll, Americans do not hold Trump in high regard on either issues or leadership qualities. The percentage of Americans who say they agree with Trump on the most important issues nearly matches his approval rating. But significantly fewer Americans say he has the personality and leadership qualities a president should have. In fact, 18% of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing even though they do not think he has the proper make-up to be president.

Gallup did not ask the personality and issue items consistently during the Bush or Obama administrations, but the 33% in the July survey who said Trump has the personality and leadership qualities a president should is far below any other single measurement in its trend. The next lowest measurement in the trend was 49% for Bush in October 2005, a time when his job approval ratings were falling in the wake of the government's poor response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and Bush's withdrawing his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Gallup did not update the question later in Bush's second term, when his approval ratings were below 30%; it is possible his numbers on personality and leadership would have been worse in the final years of his presidency.

The 40% who say they agree with Trump on issues is an average of a 40% reading in Gallup's June survey and 39% in the July survey. Both are among the lowest individual measurements in Gallup's trend, along with readings of 40% and 41% for Bush on this dimension in May and October 2005, respectively.

Usually less than half of Americans have said they agreed with the president on issues. This likely reflects partisan divisions of the general public, with Americans' party preferences influenced to a large degree by their issue preferences. Only once in Gallup's trend, in January 2002 shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks, did well-above a majority say they agreed with the president on issues. At that time, 71% of Americans said they agreed with Bush on issues.

Trump's average 40% issue agreement score is still worse than those for Obama (46%) and Bush (50%), but is closer to the ratings of his predecessors than his ratings on the character dimension are.

Republicans Largely Fuel Personality/Issue Gap

Although majorities of Republicans rate Trump positively on both his character and issue agreement, they are more likely to say they agree with him on the issues (87%) than to say he has the personality and leadership qualities a president should (75%). The Republican gap on the two dimensions is largely responsible for the differences in ratings among Americans overall.

Among independents, there is a smaller gap -- 35% agree with Trump on issues and 28% believe he has the right presidential character. Democrats show no difference in their overwhelmingly negative opinions on the two dimensions -- 6% agree with Trump on issues and 6% say he has the personality and leadership qualities a president should.

Republicans More Likely to Say They Agree With Trump on Issues Than Say He Has Personality and Leadership Qualities a President Should Have
Republicans Independents Democrats
% % %
Agree with Trump on issues that matter most 87 35 6
Trump has personality/leadership qualities a president should 75 28 6
Gap (percentage points) 12 7 0
Data represent average of June and July poll data.

In contrast, all party groups rated Obama and Bush higher on personality and leadership than on issues, though Republicans rated Bush only slightly lower on issues than on character.

Trump's ratings among his fellow Republicans on issue agreement (87%) are largely similar to those for Bush among Republicans (90%) and Obama among Democrats (83%). But Republicans rate Trump significantly worse on personality (75%) than they rated Bush (94%) or than Democrats rated Obama (92%).

The same pattern plays out among those who do not identify with the president's party. Trump's ratings on the personality dimension among independents and members of the opposition party are much worse than those for Obama and Bush on the same dimension with independents and their opposing parties. But Trump's ratings on issues are not much lower among independents, or supporters of the opposition party, than was the case for Obama and Bush.

Ratings of Recent Presidents on Personality and Leadershp Versus Issues, by Political Party
Figures are percentage who say president has the personality and leadership qualities a president should have, and who say they agree with the president on the issues that matter most
Trump Obama Bush
% % %
Personality/Leadership Qualities
Own party 75 ^ 92 # 94 ^
Independents 28 60 54
Opposition party 6 # 23 ^ 28 #
Own party 87 ^ 83 # 90 ^
Independents 35 44 43
Opposition party 6 # 9 ^ 17 #
^ Republican Party; # Democratic Party; Data represent averages from each time questions were asked during president's tenure.

Bottom Line

Americans believed Bush and Obama had the necessary personal qualities to be president, even if many didn't support their policies or approve of the job they were doing as president. However, that is not the case for Trump, particularly among Democrats and independents, but also a fair number of Republicans. Only one in three Americans believe Trump has the personality and leadership qualities a president should, including a non-trivial minority of Republicans.

Trump's perceived character shortcomings appear to be the primary basis for why Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. As such, much of the opposition to Trump is more fundamentally rooted in who he is, rather than how he is doing his job, which suggests negative opinions of him will not change easily. These data also suggest that some segment of his supporters are supporting him primarily on the basis of issue agreement. However, if he fails to deliver on key Republican proposals the party was unable to pass when Obama was in office, those supporters may fall away and his already low approval ratings could erode further.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 7-11 and July 5-9, 2017, with a random sample of 2,030 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 ±3 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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