A Perplexed America

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 23, 2017 — On the day that Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States this past Friday, new surveys just out suggest the American people are polarized about how they view the present and future.

While Trump was sworn in as the fifth minority president (in terms of popular vote) since 1960, his 46.1 percent share of the popular vote is not the lowest among the last 10 to attain the office. Actually, looking at the initial election of Presidents #35 (Kennedy) to 45 (Trump), his popular vote total is actually close to the average election percentage of this relatively contemporary group. When first winning office, and not counting President Lyndon B. Johnson who assumed the position after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the average incoming presidential victory percentage is 48.5 percent. Of the group, the two lowest are Presidents Bill Clinton (43.0 percent) and Richard Nixon (43.4 percent).

Trump is the oldest person ever to be sworn in as the nation’s chief executive, at 70 years and 220 days. The previous two oldest were Presidents Ronald Reagan at 69 years, 349 days, and William Henry Harrison who was 68 years and 23 days of age. The youngest to be sworn in was Theodore Roosevelt at 42 years, 322 days, while John Kennedy aged 43 years, 236 days, was the youngest to be elected. Roosevelt assumed office after President William McKinley was assassinated.

Two surveys have just been completed that show Americans hold mixed views about the country as Trump begins his presidency. And we’ve seen that reflected in the media over the past few days. While the new Fox News Poll (Jan. 15-18; 1,006 registered US voters) gives President Obama a favorable 57:39 percent approval rating as he leaves office, and 55 percent believe the country is better off than when he took office in 2009, the regular ongoing Gallup national tracking survey shows that 71 percent of the electorate still believes the nation is headed in the “wrong direction.” When Obama first took office, the Gallup wrong direction number also stood at 71 percent.

The voters apparently do have a good grasp as to where the candidates stand, and what they are voting for, however. There is generally a major difference in attitudes and perceptions from people residing in the 30 states Trump carried versus the 20 where Hillary Clinton prevailed.

For example, 58 percent of those Gallup surveyed at the end of the election year in the Trump states oppose the Affordable Care Act, while only 47 percent do so in the Clinton states. Fifty-eight percent in the Trump states view “refugees trying to enter Europe and North America as a critical threat”, while only 44 percent agree with such a statement in the Clinton states. In the Trump region, 54 percent say climate change is not a critical threat, compared to only 41 percent who have that position in the Clinton states. In terms of viewing government as over-regulating American business, 52 percent of those in Trump states agree with such an assessment, but only 40 percent do so in the Clinton states. On abortion, 51 percent in the Trump states consider themselves “pro-life”, while in the Clinton states only 37 percent categorize themselves as such.

Simultaneously, there is fundamental agreement between the Trump and Clinton states on several issues, but nationally, and again according to the regular Gallup tracking survey, 77 percent view the country as “greatly divided” as opposed to just 21 percent who say the nation is “united and generally in agreement.” Just after President George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, those numbers were virtually reversed with 74 percent saying the nation was united versus just 24 percent who said it was divided.

Generally, the groups in both the Trump and Clinton states agree that the federal government has too much power, that marijuana should be legal, the cost of healthcare is too high, the death penalty should be employed for murder, that a wall between the US and Mexico should not be built, and that foreign trade is generally an opportunity for economic growth.

Still, the economic optimism polls have shot up since Trump’s election, suggesting that while people clearly feel the nation is divided at least economic prospects for the future now appear bright. According to the fourth quarter 2016 Public Opinion Strategies/Hart Research poll (Dec. 2-5; 800 US adults), 69 percent say the economy will get better or stay about the same versus just 23 percent who now say it will get worse.

Under this backdrop, the Trump era begins.

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