(By Bill Moloney, Contributing Writer) New York City's flamboyant Democratic Mayor Ed Koch (1978-1989) memorably used to roam the streets of Gotham shouting at passers-by "Hey, How'm I doin?" Hizzoner's method of opinion research was a bit unusual but his question is one that rivets the minds of politicians everywhere including another flamboyant New Yorker, Donald Trump.
Gauging public opinion in recent times has been fiendishly difficult. Pollsters had an absolutely terrible election year as they tried to follow the ups and downs of the two most unpopular presidential candidates in living memory, and things haven't gotten much better for them since.
As reported in The Hill, approval ratings for President Trump are all over the map, ranging from 39% (Pew Research) to 55% (Rasmussen). Despite such embarrassing disparities, those addicted to politics constantly seek credible survey data, which will provide some clue to what their countrymen are thinking.
The venerable Gallup Poll is distinguished by the size and frequency of its opinion sampling. Accordingly the February poll measuring "Public Attitudes toward Donald Trump" drew considerable attention. Of particular value are five questions that have been asked--wording unchanged-- concerning political figures for several years. This approach provides not just a snapshot of present viewpoints but also an indication of trends over time.
The questions are expressed as "characteristics" that people are asked to answer "Applies" or "Doesn't Apply" to Donald Trump. The following table lists the characteristics followed by the percentage of respondents who said "Applies" in September 2016 followed by February 2017. The final column indicates the direction and percent change over the five-month period:
The bad news for President Trump is that he is in negative territory regarding three of five characteristics. The good news is that he is trending positively in all five.
Gallup divided all respondents into two categories: "Democratic and Democratic Leaners," and "Republican and Republican Leaners."
Not surprisingly the partisan divide was immense. Across the five February questions Democrats averaged just 15 % positive responses to Trump as opposed to 89% for Republicans.
In analyzing their data the Gallup researchers were particularly riveted by the degree to which the Trump Presidency is fracturing traditional patterns of demography and geography regarding partisan allegiance. Groups (e.g. union households) and regions (e.g. Industrial Midwest) historically Democratic were affirming Trump in significant numbers while conversely significant elements of historic Republican groups were rejecting him.
While politicians and their approval ratings change frequently, the approval ratings of societal institutions are much more stable, and these Gallup has been tracking annually since 1972. It is instructive to correlate the two different sets of ratings to gauge the deeper background of how American's regard their country and its institutions. Here are the highlights from the last institutional survey taken in June of 2016. The numbers represent the combined percentage of Americans who have either a "Great Deal of Confidence" or "Quite a Lot of Confidence" in the following institutions:
Should anyone doubt that shrewd politicians pay attention to these surveys, it is useful to recall that among the most frequent promises made by Donald Trump's presidential campaign were: A. Building up the military; B. Support for Police; and C easing regulations on small Business.
Conversely, the most frequent criticisms were aimed at A. National Media; B. Big Corporations; and C. Congress. Notice any correlation to the Gallup ratings for those six entities? Mr. Trump is dumb like a fox.
___________________________________________________________________________________Bill Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, and Human Events.