- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2017

The economy is up, but President Trump’s job approval numbers are down — one of the many contradictions of the current administration and a clear indication that Americans remain dissatisfied with Washington politics.

A healthy economy usually buoys a president’s poll numbers regardless of how he is faring on other fronts. Americans also tend to have higher opinions of the president as a person than of his policies.

None of this seems to apply to Mr. Trump, whose job approval rating has hit record lows as he approaches his six-month anniversary for occupying the White House.

A Bloomberg poll released Monday shows that 51 percent of Americans believe the stock market will keep rising, 47 percent approve of Mr. Trump’s job creation record and 46 percent approve of his handling of the economy.

But those same voters give Mr. Trump an overall approval rating of 40 percent.

Marc J. Hetherington, a scholar of polling and voter behavior at Vanderbilt University, said the president’s downward trend in approval scores is unprecedentedly bad and somewhat inexplicable.

“This is, to me, really remarkable given that the economy is performing well. [President] Ford was in the 30s, but he had to deal with Nixon and a sour economy,” he said.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Trump also gets a lower rating for his personality than for his policies, according to a Gallup analysis released Monday.

It showed that 40 percent of U.S. adults agreed with Mr. Trump on the issues but just 34 percent said he had presidential personality and leadership qualities.

The findings flip Americans’ take on recent presidents. President Obama and President George W. Bush tended to be more popular for their personalities than their policies.

On average, Americans rated Mr. Obama better on personality than on issues by 14 percentage points, 60 percent to 46 percent. For Mr. Bush, the average was nine points higher on personality, 59 percent to 50 percent, according to Gallup.

“Americans believed Bush and Obama had the necessary personal qualities to be president, even if many didn’t support their policies or approve of the job they were doing as president,” said Gallup pollsters. “However, that is not the case for Trump, particularly among Democrats and independents, but also a fair number of Republicans.”

This helps explain Mr. Trump’s overall low numbers. He starts out with many Americans just plain disliking him.

The Gallup daily tracking poll Monday showed Mr. Trump with a 39 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval rating.

A 39 percent approval rating ties the historic low of Ford six months into his presidency.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found Mr. Trump had a 36 percent approval rating, which would be the lowest of any modern president halfway through his first year in office.

However, Republican pollster and strategist Jim McLaughlin said a rash of recent surveys pegging Mr. Trump’s job approval at 40 percent and lower were skewed against the president.

The Washington Post/ABC News poll, for instance, used a population sample that was 35 percent Democratic and 23 percent Republican, underrepresenting Republican voters by about 10 percent.

“If the poll reflected the actual electorate, Trump would be in mid-40s, which is what his favorability rating was on Election Day when he won an overwhelming Electoral College victory,” he said.

Republicans in the poll gave Mr. Trump an 82 percent approval score, with 15 percent disapproval. A larger Republican sample would have significantly driven up the president’s score.

Many of the same polls recording widespread unhappiness with Mr. Trump also predicted last year that Hillary Clinton would soundly defeat him.

Mr. McLaughlin said Americans in general are dissatisfied with more than White House activity.

“The institutions in Washington are not popular. Congress isn’t popular,” he said. “The truth of the matter is Trump is more popular than Congress is right now. What they want to see is something get done.”

Indeed, the Washington Post/ABC News poll found that only 37 percent of American adults think the Democratic Party stands for something, while 52 percent think it just stands against Mr. Trump.

The president’s job approval numbers are not helped by the daily pounding he suffers in the news media and the focus on Russian election meddling and accusations of collusion.

The White House has attempted to steer the narrative in Washington with policy-themed weeks, such as spending this week talking about the president’s made-in-America agenda.

Before a made-in-America event Monday at the White House, however, Mr. Trump felt compelled to wade back into the Russia controversy and defend Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

“Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” the president said in a Twitter post.

Republican Party strategist Ryan Williams said the bad poll numbers should serve as a wake-up call for Mr. Trump to stop adding fuel to the fire.

“If he wants to improve his numbers and change the subject to some degree, he needs to stop taking the bait every time,” said Mr. Williams. “He needs to use the bully pulpit of the presidency to change the subject. He can do that if he just exercises some self-discipline and lays off the Twitter.”

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