President Trump Could Use a “Better Way”

This article was originally posted on Huffington Post.  

Donald Trump entered office with a relatively weak position according to public opinion. His job approval has rarely gone above 50% and currently sits in the high 30% / low 40% range per the Huffington Post/Pollster average. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has seen an almost continual decline in his job approval ratings. While he may blame the Freedom Caucus or Democrats or even President Obama, the reality may be that he and his administration have just picked the wrong policies to pursue.

Our Reuters/Ipsos poll (http://polling.reuters.com/) has collected detailed job approval scores for President Trump on a range of issues, including most of the ones he and the Republican Congress have emphasized over the last 3 months. It is clear when we look at these detailed job approval scores why the President has not experienced any sort of surge or pivot in public admiration. On virtually all the major issues addressed so far, the American public was not positive about the President’s performance on those issues when he entered office and their evaluation has only gotten worse.

The clearest example of this is the collapse of the Republican health reform plan — the American Health Care Act. Entering office, Trump’s job approval on health care was narrowly more positive than negative at a net plus 6[1]. This low approval indicated that President Trump and the White House had very little margin for error. After it became clear the Republican plan would not pass, President Trump’s job approval on health care reform dropped to a net negative 9. This shows that the White House had a little credibility on health care to start with and lost most of it through the battle. Related to President Trump’s health care approval, his marks for ‘dealing with Congress’ have also taken a tumble going from a net plus 9 when he took office to a net negative 4 now.

Another problematic area for the White House is the environment. President Trump entered office with low public approval on his handling of the environment at a net negative 5. After his executive orders, including attempts to defund the Environmental Protection Agency, his job approval on the environment dropped to a net negative 11. Here too, the White House had minimal credibility to start and lost more through their efforts to enact their policy preferences.

Looking forward to the next big issue Republicans intend to tackle, President Trump’s starting political capital doesn’t look much better. On taxation, his job approval started at net positive 5 and is currently at a net-positive 2. With a potential battle over US tax policy looming, these numbers indicate President Trump isn’t starting with much credibility and shouldn’t expect to gain any popularity on the topic of taxes.

It is surprising that the one area where President Trump is still broadly seen as doing a good job is the one area his administration has spent little time focusing. President Trump’s job approval on dealing with the U.S. economy and jobs started very positive and remains generally positive. Considering the overall economy is doing well, these are natural areas to play to the President’s strength in public opinion.

There are many issues facing this country and the White House has to choose the issues they believe worth prioritizing. To the extent the White House is seeking to either unify the country or improve the President’s popularity, they should work more on the economy where he is viewed with greater credibility. By focusing on broad-based economic policy or even populist economic policy, President Trump could see his job approval rebound. But as long as his administration insists on fighting for policies where he lacks credibility he should not anticipate much improvement in how the public views him.

[1] “Net” scores subtract negative totals from positive totals to give a single composite. In this case, we subtract all the people who “disapprove” from those who “approve.” A positive net score indicates more people approve while a negative score indicates more people disapprove.