As President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address next week, a new Morning Consult survey finds public trust in the institution of the presidency has eroded since he was elected in 2016.
In a nationwide poll, conducted online among 1,988 registered voters, 47 percent of respondents said they had little or no confidence in the presidency, up 3 percentage points from a December 2016 survey with Politico. At the same time, 47 percent of voters in the more recent poll, conducted Jan. 4-5, said they had a lot or some confidence in the presidency, down 5 points from the previous survey.
The polls also show that 31 percent of respondents said they had no confidence in the presidency, compared with 17 percent who held that view a month after Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That increase set the presidency apart from other institutions included in the polls: The next largest jumps in the share of voters who said they had no confidence in a particular institution were 3 points.
Experts say the shifting numbers about the presidency are, in part, a reflection of Trump’s unpopularity, and the link between the reputation of the office-holder and the office itself — something unique in comparison to other institutions.
The decline in confidence for the presidency during Trump’s tenure appears to depart from the previous two administrations, according to data from Gallup that shows the public’s faith in the presidency improved during the first year of the commander-in-chief’s term. In June of 2001 and 2009 — five months after the inaugurations of George W. Bush (R) and Barack Obama (D) — sentiments of the presidency were rosier than the preceding year, according to Gallup. However, by June 2010, trust in the presidency under Obama had declined 15 percentage points from the previous year.
“The presidency is personified by the president in a way that is not true for other branches of government,” Brendan Nyhan, a political science professor at Dartmouth College, said in a Jan. 9 interview. “And people’s opinions toward the current occupant of the White House will bleed into their evaluations of the presidency accordingly to a greater extent than they would when they’re asked to evaluate other institutions.”
Indeed, voters were also considerably more likely to voice strong sentiments when it came to the presidency than for other institutions. At 22 percent, Congress was the only other institution to receive no confidence from at least one-fifth of poll respondents. Thirteen percent had the same lack of confidence in the health care system — a subject of intense debate since Obama was elected president in 2008.
“Trump has been a very polarizing president and, at the same time, a mostly unpopular one,” Matthew Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, said in a Jan. 17 email.
In a Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted Jan. 11-16, Trump had a 50 percent disapproval rating. That compares to a 43 percent disapproval for Obama in a mid-January 2010 poll conducted by Gallup.
Forty-one percent of Republicans now say they have “a lot” of confidence in the presidency, compared with 19 percent who said the same more than a year ago, Morning Consult polling shows. There was a similar but opposite effect among Democrats, with 52 percent now saying they have no confidence in the presidency, up from 18 percent in December 2016.
Falling confidence in the presidency between December 2016 and this month also coincided with setbacks for almost all other institutions tracked in the poll. The public’s confidence in institutions such as small business, banks, organized labor, public schools and the military fell more than the surveys’ 2-point margins of error for Democrats and Republicans alike.
Only one institution Morning Consult polled on — newspapers, a frequent punching bag of the president and his supporters — maintained their trust among the public, with 53 percent saying this month and a year earlier that they had at least some confidence in them. Television news, another recipient of Trump’s criticism, dropped 4 points to 48 percent among those reporting at least some confidence.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.