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GOP Lawmakers Stand by Trump as Majority of Americans Oppose His Re-Election

Economist/YouGov survey shows strong disapproval, unfavorables

President Donald Trump points to his ears as he tries to hear shouted questions from reporters while departing the White House for Camp David on Sept. 8. (Win McNamee/Getty Images File Photo)
President Donald Trump points to his ears as he tries to hear shouted questions from reporters while departing the White House for Camp David on Sept. 8. (Win McNamee/Getty Images File Photo)

A new survey indicates a majority of Americans doubt President Donald Trump’s honesty, view him as a weak leader and don’t want him to run again. But Republican lawmakers say he isn’t a drag on their agenda and predict he will be a formidable candidate in 2020.

Fifty-six percent of respondents in the latest Economist/YouGov survey were so put off by the commander in chief they wanted him to opt against a re-election bid. The results were not kind to Trump, with 54 percent saying they either somewhat or strongly disapproved of how the president is doing his job, while 39 percent approved.

When asked if they viewed Trump as “not honest and trustworthy,” 53 percent agreed with that assessment, while 30 percent disagreed. Before the 2016 election, many political experts predicted concerns about his temperament might sink his candidacy. Nine months into his term, 56 percent doubted he has the right disposition for the country’s highest office compared to 31 percent who thought he does. 

Trump’s negatives are at or above 40 percent on key issues such as voters’ views of his honesty, experience, sincerity and ability to inspire. And only about a third of those surveyed (37 percent) viewed him as effective at this point in his presidency. 

On the important issue of Trump as a leader, more than half, 54 percent, saw him as “somewhat weak” or “very weak.” Forty-six percent viewed him as a “very strong” or “somewhat strong” leader.

The survey polled 1,500 adults Oct. 1-3 through web-based interviews, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. CQ Roll Call is owned by The Economist Group.

On the leadership question, the GOP president is still without a major legislative accomplishment even though his party controls both chambers of Congress. Two bills that would have partially repealed and replaced the 2010 health care law stalled in the Senate, with Trump unable to convince a handful of holdout Republicans that fulfilling a campaign vow outweighed their concerns with the bills.

Hill support holds

An old adage in Washington is lawmakers will turn even on a president of their own political party if his poll numbers tumble low enough. So far, Trump is defying that.

“What hurts us is not the president’s polling. It’s our inaction,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said. “I can tell you that if we don’t get things done, we will hope and pray for the president’s poll numbers to be ours because ours will be a whole lot less. … It’s Congress’ inaction that adversely affects his poll numbers.”

The Economist/YouGov survey backs up the North Carolina Republican on the unpopularity of Congress. Only 2 percent strongly approved of the way Congress is doing its job, with another 8 percent somewhat approving. That’s stacked up against 59 percent who either strongly disapproved or somewhat disapproved of how Congress conducts itself professionally. 

Meadows, who has said he talks with the president about the GOP legislative agenda with some frequency, added with a chuckle: “You ought to check out the last poll that came out in my state. They want him to run again.”

GOP Rep. Peter T. King of New York disagreed that the poll numbers make Trump a drag on the Republican agenda. “Nah,” he said with a dismissive hand wave.

“I saw a poll in my district … where his unfavorables had gone up considerably,” King said of his Long Island-based 2nd District. “I live in a Democratic district that Obama carried twice — but the president would still beat Hillary Clinton head to head in the district.” (Trump carried the King’s seat by 9 points last fall.)

Base support

That means Republicans like King are likely to stand by Trump and continue pushing his agenda because they view him as having the electoral support of their constituents. And to that end, both Meadows and King noted something that also shows up in the Economist/YouGov results: Around one-third of those surveyed often gave the president high or above-average marks.

“He probably has a larger base than anyone in the country,” King said. “People seemed inclined to say, ‘He talks too much or he tweets too much.’ But when he’s up against someone else [in poll questions], they still go with him.”

“He’s going to be a strong, strong candidate in 2020,” King added.

Some GOP members, such as Bill Flores of Texas, opted against saying anything negative about Trump, declining to comment on a survey they had yet to review.

Rep. Mark Sanford said the survey’s findings reflected the general electorate deciding for themselves what to make of the president.

“The public’s sentiment is the public’s sentiment. People decide what they decide at an individual level,” the South Carolina Republican said. “I’ll leave it to you all to interpret the tea leaves as to what that means.”

Asked whether Trump’s low poll ratings erode his sway on Capitol Hill and ability to wrangle support among the Republican caucus, Sanford demurred with a slight grin: “Y’all will decide that one.”

Rema Rahman contributed to this report.

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