President Donald Trump has come out of the box and he has come out swinging. On the other side, Democrats so far have essentially voted as a block against not one but every Trump nominee and over 60 Democrats in Congress even boycotted Trump before he was sworn in.
But it's not what Americans say they are looking for in either a president or an opposition party. In a Harvard Harris survey released over the weekend, 68 percent want President TrumpDonald TrumpMedia giants side with Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents Cheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official MORE to compromise on his agenda and work with the Democrats. And 73 per cent of the country says they want the Democrats to stop blanket resistance and try to make deals with the Trump administration. Even 52 per cent of self-identified Democrats think the party is on the wrong course, along with huge majorities of Republicans and Independents.
This raises a fundamental question about why our political leaders have instead chosen the path of most resistance. It suggests that the Democrats, already reeling from electoral losses at all levels, are embarking upon a risky strategy in taking a “Never Trump” positioning in a Trump world. And it suggests that the two political parties with their bases each approving of their leaders by huge margins (Trump get almost 90 per cent approval ratings among Republicans) are increasingly out of touch with what most Americans want.
In the absence of either the president or the Democrats seizing the center, the country remains split right down the middle in its politics. The president in the Harvard Harris poll has a 48 percent job approval. 50% trust Trump more than the media and exactly 50% trust the media more than the president. The two halves of the country are mirror images of each other in their politics with Trump getting widespread support from rural areas, men, and white downscale voters, while the media and the Democrats draw their support from the urban, female and minority groups that voted for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBudowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE.
While the country waited endlessly for the election to be over — and Trump won — the voters never rallied around the winner, as was typical after many but not all past elections. The election campaign, and all its polarization, never really ended.
Yet, the poll suggests that the country yearns for an end to polarization and will likely reward those who they believe compromised and reached out to the other side for the good of the country. The president has a speech before a joint session of Congress coming up on February 28, and this will be an opportunity for the Democrats and for Trump to turn over a new leaf.
Will Democrats be boycotting, generating protests in the hall, and failing to applaud anything in the speech? Will Trump be reaching out to the Democrats or blasting them as purely obstructionist and fake news? There is no question about what the public wants and what actions will continue to polarize the country. There is a real chance the speech will be a televised political free-for-all unlike anything America has witnessed in the last 100 years.
President Trump does have lower ratings than past presidents have had in their honeymoon phase but his ratings are comparable to those of recent presidents after that limited period of electoral euphoria.
President Obama spent most of his presidency with an approval rating between 45 and 50, with dips into the low 40’s and high 30’s. At 48 percent, Trump’s job approval is higher than Obama’s was, but with different constituencies.
In just a short time, those segments of the electorate that were unhappiest switched places, with wide swings among the African American and other constituencies in the readings of whether the country is on right track/wrong track. It is this sudden reversal of political fortune for so many groups that is behind the social upheaval and protest we are seeing in the streets and in the media.
Nevertheless, there definitely is a swing voter looking for our politicians and our politics to get past these differences, sit down, and put away the partisanship to make deals in areas likes taxes, infrastructure and even immigration. In a 50/50 country, the desire for the Democrats and Trump to return to bipartisanship is one of the few question s on which 60 to 75 per cent of America agrees. The question is whether the politicians will get out of their partisan echo chambers and listen to them.
Mark Penn and Stephen Ansolabehere conduct the Harvard Harris Poll. Penn served as President Clinton’s pollster for 6 years. Ansolabehere is Professor of Government at Harvard and runs the the Harvard Center for American Political Studies (CAPS). The Harvard-Harris Poll is a collaboration of Harvard CAPS and The Harris Poll.
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