Tell me if you’ve heard this one…America elects a president based more on celebrity than on credentials and more on his promises than on his actions. He is the unlikely candidate that vanquishes the opposition’s establishment candidate, one with decades of experience in government and in foreign relations.
He has a captivating presence, is an entrancing orator to his supporters, and has a fresh perspective about America’s role in the world. Domestically, his positions on issues like taxes, immigration, regulation, and education are an about-face from his predecessor.
While his voters revel in a new direction for the country, the other half of the country stews in bitter defeat with a dash, maybe, of cautious optimism about what changes may come. But, one thing is clear; the election has set America on a new path.
Now, am I talking about Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016 or Barack Obama’s defeat of John McCain in 2008? Even as the shoe is on the other partisan foot, it is an eerily similar narrative. And, it has to do with one thing…change. Today, Americans overall are as expectant of change as they were in February 2009 – and most are optimistic about what’s next.
The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, conducted February 18-22, and released over the weekend shows that roughly as many Americans say President Trump is likely to deliver change (77%) in the direction of the country as President Obama was in 2009 (81%). And, to his credit, Trump has more enthusiasm in his base support, with 64% of Republicans believing he is “very likely,” than Obama did with 51% of Democrats saying the same a month into his first term.We asked a follow-up question to these survey respondents (it was not asked in 2009) asking whether President Trump will bring “the right kind of change to the direction of the country.” A plurality of voters, 48%, say that he will, including 89% of Republicans, 46% of Independents, and 13% of Democrats. Less than one quarter of Americans (23%) say the change Trump will bring is the “wrong kind,” including 37% of Democrats, 29% of Independents and 4% of Republicans.These data can be hard to square with the rest of public opinion. After all, Trump is the least popular President this early in a first term since the advent of polling. Since NBCWSJ first asked about him in 1990, Trump has never had a net positive image rating. And, at 44%, his job approval rating is as low today as President George W. Bush’s was after Hurricane Katrina.
How can this man bring the right kind of change?
The poll offers a possible key to unlock that mystery. Fully 86% of Americans agree with a central message in President Trump’s inaugural address – and arguably a driving ethos of his one month old administration – that “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”
We have elected a president that most Americans think will bring the right kind of change to the direction of the country. If Americans are able to come together around one thing, it is that change is needed.
Polling for The Wall Street Journal and NBC News is conducted by Republican pollster Bill McInturff and Democratic pollster Fred Yang. This analysis is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of NBC News, The Wall Street Journal, or Hart Research Associates.