Judging Trump: Are elites disconnected or is the public in denial?

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One of the more fascinating aspects of today’s politics is the opinion tug-of-war between the college-educated elites and the general public. Elites are often described as living inside a bubble and being disconnected from most Americans.

And while it is rare for elites to overtly cast aspersions on blue-collar workers, or those living in small towns, much of the commentary follows in vein of Thomas Frank’s best-selling book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?,” which implies that most rural populists foolishly act against their economic interests when they vote for the Republican Party.

{mosads}Although public opinion polls show that most groups have grown less supportive of President Trump over the past year, college-educated elites appear much more concerned about where things are now than they were at the end of the Trump’s first 100 days in office.


For example, Thursday morning’s Axios e-mail newsletter began by describing “the case for extreme worry,” referring not only to the “brewing trade war with China” but also the high levels of cabinet and staff turnover among the Trump administration, and the apparent waning influence of Chief of Staff John Kelly.

In addition, the stock markets have been volatile since January and respected analysts have begun sounding the alarm about the “epic bubble” soon bursting. In fact, one forecast even projects that 12 months from now, the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be trading in a range that is about 4,000 points lower than where it is today.

On any given day, the media offer up rational arguments and news stories that critique Trump’s presidency and reveal everything from the confusion and dissembling about policy and personnel to the lack of personal ethics and widespread corruption to the serious concerns experts have about foreign policy threats and the Russia investigation.

Despite, and perhaps in conscious defiance of, these “elite-authored” stories, the American public hasn’t much changed its impression of President Trump.

Comparing the Morning Consult/Politico Poll from late March 2017 to another one year later (2018), Trump’s approval rating has dropped 6 points among those with a graduate degree (40 percent to 34 percent), 5 points among those with a bachelor’s degree (45 percent to 40 percent), and only 3 points (48 percent to 45 percent) among those with less than a college education. In the suburbs, where many affluent elites reside, the percentage of those who strongly approve of the job Trump is doing has declined by 9 points (28 percent to 19 percent), whereas in rural areas, the percentage of those who strongly approve has declined by 5 points (32 percent to 27 percent).

Many pollsters suggest that the strong economy is boosting President Trump’s approval, and but among those registered voters who rate the economy as the most important issue, Trump’s approval rating has ticked down by 3 percentage points (from 49 percent to 46 percent) over the year. Interestingly, with regard to policy issues, Trump’s highest approval rating (67 percent) comes from the 20 percent of registered voters who rate security as their top priority. It, too, has only slightly declined over the year (from 71 percent to 67 percent).

It’s no wonder that as he began this week to turn his focus to the 2018 midterm elections, rather than touting the tax reform bill, he decided to respond to the “caravan” of immigrants traveling north by ordering the National Guard to the southern border.  

But both of these numbers are in stark contrast to the 16-point drop (38 percent to 16 percent) among those voters who did not specify a policy area (“other”) as a top priority and may well be judging Trump on his overall policy leadership.

All of this is to say, who is right about Trump, the college-educated elites or the general public? It’s unlikely we’ll ever get a definitive answer because how one judges a political leader is far more subjective than most scholars would care to admit. Still, when it comes to judging President Trump, what seems obvious is that everyone, not just the elites, is living in a bubble.          

Lara M. Brown is director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Follow her on Twitter @LaraMBrownPhD.

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump presidential campaign; Trump presidency John Kelly Special Counsel investigation

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