There’s a new poll out that brought things around to a recurring theme: trust. I wrote a little about this before, but not as much as I think about it. Whether we trust or don’t trust a politician, a candidate, a boss, seems to have so much influence on how nearly everything that person does is colored. Today we’re seeing trust have an enormous impact on how we view President Trump. His approval ratings continue to dip into the 30s, but perhaps more important, a CNN poll found that only 24% of Americans say that they trust “all or most of what they hear in official communications from the White House.”
It’s important to look at how polling like this falls into partisan lines. For instance, even though we’re hearing over and over that the President’s approval ratings are in the 30s, among republicans, the number is in the high 70s or even low 80s depending on the poll. The CNN poll mentioned above found an 83% approval rating from Republicans, and an August 2 Quinnipiac poll had support from republicans at 76%. Gallup had a piece a few months ago about the partisan divide in approval polling, and it shows pretty clearly that Trump is doing well, even better than others, among his party. Look at the graph from Gallup.
Granted, Trump is doing very poorly with democrats and independents, but, at least in April, he does better with his own party than Clinton, Bush 41, Carter, or Nixon and he’s about the same as Eisenhower and Kennedy (a bit worse than Obama or Bush 43). In the end, the historically low ratings from democrats and independents might spell trouble for him, but there’s nothing I see in these numbers giving any hint that his base is eroding.
I did a few quick calculations that only a nerd like me would find interesting. I was curious if the independents generally look like an average of the partisans, and there’s some support for that. For instance, in Reagan’s first quarter, he had 83% and 43% approval ratings from republicans and democrats, respectively. That averages to 63%, which is exactly the level of support he got from independents. Obama had the same (90% from democrats, 30% from republicans, which averages to 60%…the exact approval rating among independents). There’s some error for others, but relatively small. Kennedy’s and Clinton’s first quarter approval ratings among independents were each 2 points lower than the average of democrats and republicans. Nixon’s independents had him 6 points lower than the democrat-republican average, and Bush (41) was pretty bad with a first quarter approval rating that was 9 points lower than the average of democrats and republicans. That was a record, until Trump. Trump’s first quarter rating among independents was 11 points lower than the average of democrats and republicans, and Trump’s rating among democrats in that poll (9%) is a full 19 points lower than the previous low from the other party (Clinton sat at 28% among republicans). That’s meaningful because it brings down the democrat-republican average, yet the independent ratings are still 11 points lower than the average (Trump’s Q1 approval among independents was 37%, which places him as the lowest among the bunch by 14 points; Clinton and Bush 43 each had 51% approval among independents at the end of their first quarter).
What does all of this have to do with trust? Perhaps nothing, but the number that jumped out at me from the CNN poll is this: “Even among Republicans, only about half say they can trust most of what they hear from the White House.” I don’t have a reference standard for that, and I haven’t found historical norms there. It certainly could be that republicans have less trust of government in general (that wouldn’t surprise me), but the discrepancy between the trust numbers and the approval numbers is striking. It makes me wonder who these people are who approve of the President’s job, but don’t trust what the White House says. I’m not sure, but based on my sense of how impactful trust can be, I don’t think I’d give an “approve” vote to an administration I didn’t trust.