Near the beginning of the year, I noticed something curious. More or less immediately after the election, polling made a sharp turn toward keeping and fixing the Affordable Care Act instead of repealing it.
It was curious because Donald Trump had won on a platform of repealing it, and the GOP maintained majorities in both houses of Congress by promising to repeal it—years of promising to repeal it, in fact. Trump’s victory gave them the opportunity to do it. But the polling put them all in a very difficult position: betray their promise to their base and new voters who were convinced by the promise, or alienate voters who had benefited from the ACA.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’ve failed twice to thread the needle, despite majorities in both houses.
I thought back on this when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released the results of a new survey about foreign relations, an update on Americans’ views about our role in the world. Sure enough, polling has trended against the cornerstones of the Trump campaign.
Take the border wall, for instance, a literal campaign platform and a metaphor for other policies about immigration, like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) withdrawal.
The pattern among Republicans is interesting: It doesn’t really change much over 14 years, and by 2014 it ends up where it started in 1998. Then the view of immigration as a threat spikes 12 percentage points in two years. Then, as soon as those voters get what they want, it starts to trend back. Perhaps more important for Republican policy, independents’ fear of immigration declined ten percentage points from 2015 to 2017.
How about climate change? Same.
Republicans didn’t have far to fall, but independents drastically tick up toward viewing it as a threat.
Well, what about international trade? That was absolutely foundational to Trump’s campaign. Surely that…
It’s pretty weird.
Let’s ask some other Americans—those who have participated in the AP-NORC Center poll on immigration. Their sample of 1,150 was asked if they approve or disapprove of Trump’s handling of immigration in March, June, and late September-early October. His approval/disapproval on the subject fell from 45/54 to 39/60 to 35/64 over those dates.
They also conducted a poll on Trump himself. Those responding that the country is heading in the right direction—again polled in March, June, and September/October—fell from 37 to 34 to 24 percent, while “wrong direction” went from 62 to 65 to 74 percent. Trump’s approval rating in that poll, meanwhile, fell from 42 to 35 to 32 percent.
And in the most recent update, those registering strong disapproval rose to fifty percent.
Finally, there’s the press (waves). The press has been polling badly for as long as I can remember. It’s likely a reason, conscious or not, that Trump ran against it as much as he ran against anything. How are we faring? According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 48 percent of Americans have a great deal or some confidence in the press—up nine points from a year ago, and tied with the president himself (waves again).
It hasn’t helped Trump that, in his first few months from office, he has few major legislative achievements to point to, particularly on the issues that were central to his campaign. Both Trump and Congressional leadership have been criticized for this, but a major barrier is, quite simply, us: The American people seem suddenly disinterested in what Republican leaders were elected to do.