American public opinion has been Trumpified.
When Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union, he will do so as one of the most unpopular first-term presidents in modern history.
According to polling averages compiled by FiveThirtyEight, a staggering 56.3 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s job performance. If you look at this moment in past presidencies, disapproval ratings range from 45.7 percent (Barack Obama) to 14.1 percent (George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11) to 33.1 percent (Bill Clinton) to 41.7 percent (Ronald Reagan) — none even coming close to Trump’s figure.
And yet Trump has nonetheless reshaped American public opinion across a number of topics. Political scientists have known for decades that political elites like presidents help form public opinion, especially among supporters, and evidence has recently begun to accumulate suggesting that people’s opinions follow those of leaders they respect more often than vice versa. That is — it’s likelier for voters to follow elite opinion than for politicians to follow public opinion.
Nowhere has this been more evident than in views on Russia. Trump’s presidency has seen Republicans following their leader and warming to Russia and Vladimir Putin, as Democrats report more strongly negative views.
I asked Joe Williams, a senior political analyst at YouGov, to pull all the organization’s polling of Republicans, Democrats, and the public at large on Russia and Putin from 2014 to the present, to show how thinking on the issue evolved as Trump and his ties to Russia gained prominence.
The trends we found are stark. Here’s what has happened to Putin’s favorability rating among Democrats and Republicans during the campaign and Trump’s early presidency: