Poll: Does Trump’s support have a ceiling — or a floor?

by Anthony Salvanto, Jen de Pinto, Fred Backus, Sarah Dutton, Kabir Khanna

The nation is not simply divided. The last election left many wondering if they really understood the views of Americans who disagreed with them, or whether they were truly being heard at all. A single poll number can’t always answer those puzzles, so here we look deeper at all the groups who support and oppose the Trump administration at its outset: who they are, what they want and - most of all - what might change their minds.

It turns out that while there are hard-and-fast views on either side of the nation’s divide, the range of President Trump’s potential support - both to the high and low side - is actually bigger than you might think.

In this study, people separated themselves into four groups: the strongest of Trump backers (who we’ll call the Believers); those backing him but waiting for him to deliver (the Conditionals); those opposing him for now but waiting to see some results (the Curious) and those who seem immovably, firmly opposed (The Resistors.) We’ll plan to follow these groups over time. Here’s how they break down now:

nation-tracker-overall-1.jpg

The Believers: (22 percent of the nation.)

These are the president’s strongest backers, who like what he’s doing and how he’s doing it; defend him against his critics, and see him as defending the country against threats.

They put no conditions on their support: “I’m a Trump supporter, period.”

They like the last three weeks: eighty-five percent say he’s off to a “good start” and doing what he said he’d do during the campaign, or more.

nation-tracker-believers.jpg

Three-fourths of them agree with his policies and almost all of them are at least glad he’s “shaking up Washington.” At the moment it is terrorism that comes first. Fighting ISIS is their top priority for the new administration and think people ought to evaluate him on whether he keeps them safe, more so than on whether he creates jobs. They’re overwhelmingly for the travel ban (at 91 percent support) and two-thirds would also be for a religious test for those seeking entry. Most would have the President ignore the courts if the courts overturn the ban.

The want the wall and believe Mexico WILL pay for it. They overwhelmingly like how he’s dealing with Russia. And asked to pick something that would signal America being great again, the top choice is “restoring law and order” at home, followed by making sure America is the most powerful nation in the world.

Most believe Mr. Trump is right on the facts, when he’s challenged. They’re defiant toward any who would challenge the President, they think the he ought to pay attention to those who voted for him (which they overwhelmingly did) before reaching out to Democrats or others who oppose him. Describing those who challenge or protest against Mr. Trump, they pick words like “naïve” and “dangerous.”

In governing style, they want Mr. Trump to take care of his voters first, not try to reach out to others. They like his tweets and think it is a good way for a president to communicate. A quarter do feel he’s been spending too much time talking about TV shows, but the main thing they would not want Mr. Trump to do is start acting like a typical kind of politician.

These are some of the older and retired non-college voters of the sort who backed him in November (and, for that matter, a year ago in the primaries.) On partisanship they’re mostly Republicans and some independents, and more of them turned out in the Presidential election than any of the other groups identified here. One-third of them didn’t vote, but like him - they feel he speaks for them and respects them. They call themselves conservative, but don’t care whether Mr. Trump is conservative, per se  - these are views you may recall from the primaries last year, when many Trump voters didn’t care about finding the most conservative candidate in the primaries. And half of them think Mr. Trump is aiming to execute his agenda and go back to his business - which jibes with their notion of him as not being a typical politician.

The “Conditional” Supporters (22 percent of the nation)

Americans who say “I support Trump, but he has to deliver”

They “don’t agree with everything” so far but are “at least glad he’s shaking things up.”

nation-tracker-conditionals.jpg

Much more economically-focused and transactional, these voters will remove their support if he doesn’t “fix the economy” for them. They’re also concerned about safety, but aren’t as all-in with everything Mr. Trump does, especially in terms of style. A quarter don’t like the tweets.

They don’t think he’s correct on all the facts, but rather that “facts are debatable” and he’s trying to make a point, or misspeaks. They like the ban but are more likely than the strongest backers to think he “went too far” with it. The do NOT think a religious test would be constitutional, and would prefer Mr. Trump work through the courts. They’re a little more leery about Russia. One-third admit he’s off to “a rough start” but remain optimistic.

They have plenty in common with the strongest supporters though, including no desire to reach out to opponents.

The “Curious”: They’re Opponents Now, but Could Reconsider (21 percent of nation)

These Americans oppose Mr. Trump at the moment but “would reconsider” supporting him if he does a good job. They’re looking for more than just results, though – they want Mr. Trump to reach out to them, and they want respect.

Half of them at least like the fact he is “shaking up Washington.” Ninety percent say he’d gain at least some support from them if he improves the economy -- though fewer than half think he’s spending time focused on jobs now. And just as strong in their calculus is him “showing respect” for opponents. Four in ten of them say that respect could earn him their “full support.”

But right now 84 percent of this group say that he doesn’t speak for people like them, and 4 in 5 say he doesn’t respect or understand people like them.

nation-tracker-curious.jpg

They’re a little younger, more likely to be women, and more likely to be independent than Democrats. Fewer than one in ten identify themselves as Republicans.  

They want an improved economy just like his supporters and could back Mr. Trump if he delivers one -- but they feel personally alienated by the President right now. They want him to reach out, but are not optimistic he will, leaving this group looking like a missed opportunity for the President at the moment.

They’re more inclined to say Democrats should work with Mr. Trump than oppose him on everything. Half say Democrats should take the deals they can get and then look toward 2020.

At the start, the things President Trump is doing don’t resonate with them. They think the travel ban has gone too far and should be lifted; they overwhelmingly think at least some refugees should be admitted. Half think he has gone too far in his dealings with foreign allies (six in ten are concerned about that). Most of them think he does not have the right approach to Russia. In addition, many think he is focusing too much on the election, his approval ratings, TV shows, the wall and the travel ban. 

Women make up over half of this group, and more than a quarter are under age 30. Politically, they’re split between Democrats and independents.

The Resisters: (35 percent of nation)

“I am against Trump, period.”

A large group consisting mainly of Democrats, and with a larger share of minority Americans than the other groups, these Americans don’t foresee themselves ever supporting the president. They’re angry and pessimistic, though they do concede that Mr. Trump is doing what he said he’d do in the campaign. (None of them voted for him, though.)

The biggest differences between this group and the curious are: Resisters want the Democrats to oppose Mr. Trump on many more things, rather than try to work with him; demographically, they are much more likely to be either African-American or Hispanic.

Four in ten of them did not vote in the 2016 election. They have a lower rate of participation than those on the opposite side who strongly support Mr. Trump. One in ten feels “motivated” by the Trump presidency right now, so the Democrats may still have some work to do rallying this part of their base.

They overwhelmingly disagree with both President Trump’s policies and the way he’s doing things now, at a rate of over nine in 10, and nearly all think the Trump administration is off to a rough start.

nation-tracker-democrats.jpg

Few of them believe there is much Mr. Trump can do to gain their full support, but like the more persuadable opponents, most say he will gain at least some support if he shows respect for people with different views.  There is little hope among this group of Americans that this will come to pass. However – nearly all say the president doesn’t speak for them, respect or understand them, or will try to do things to earn their support.

On governing, they’re different from the “Curious” group on what they want Democrats to do. 8 in 10 of them want Democrats to oppose Trump at least on things they care most about, including 37 percent of them want Democrats to oppose Trump at every turn.

Seven in 10 think he how he handles himself as president matters a lot. But rather than talking about creating jobs, most of them think he spends too much time talking about the border wall with Mexico (which nearly all think is a bad idea), the travel ban, TV shows, his approval ratings, and how he did in the election this past November.

For the Nation Tracker we interviewed over 2,200 panelists, a higher than usual sample size, and balanced, among those who reported voting, between Trump voters and Clinton voters in the same proportion as the election.

The CBS News 2017 Nation Tracker is conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 2216 U.S. adults between February 8-10, 2017. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 2.6.

You can find the methodology for the poll here, the cross tabs here, and the toplines here.