Americans question the administration's ability to do its job and welcome the special counsel

May 24, 2017, 8:02 PM GMT+0

59% of Americans approve of the Department of Justice appointing a special counsel to oversee the investigation of Russian influence on the 2016 election

While President Trump faces the fallout from his firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigations Director James Comey and the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his Administration members’ contacts with Russian officials, the public assessment of his presidency remains problematic. The criticisms are in an area that any successful businessman would find painful: competence.

In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, more than half the public views Donald Trump as less organized than other Presidents, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt. Nearly half think President Trump has made more mistakes and is less competent.

The most organized and competent Presidents? Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and Franklin Roosevelt. Richard Nixon, Obama and George W. Bush are viewed as making the most mistakes. Donald Trump’s name was not included in those questions, but many people view him poorly on those qualities. Republicans, of course, are more positive about the incumbent, but their assessments are not overwhelmingly favorable. More than a quarter of Republicans view the Trump Administration as less organized, 16% that the President has made more mistakes and is less competent. Relatively few Republicans see the President as better than other men in that office.

The Administration as a whole also receives bad grades. Just 30% say the Trump administration has been competent and effective in managing the government.

Several top White House advisors receive negative assessments in this poll, too. Nearly twice as many Americans have an unfavorable opinion as a favorable one of Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and senior advisor (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner are also viewed negatively. First Daughter and assistant to the President Ivanka Trump does better: 43% have a favorable view of her while 40% are unfavorable.

Throughout the campaign, majorities saw now-President Trump as lacking experience and job qualifications, and so far his tenure in the White House hasn’t changed that. Only 30% believe he has enough experience, 37% say he has the qualifications, and 31% think he has the temperament to be President. Republicans are most likely to say he is qualified, though a smaller majority thinks he has enough experience or the temperament.

Opinions about Donald Trump have hardened along party lines. Nearly three in four Republicans agree with the President’s claim that no politician in history has been treated worse than he has been. The same percentage of Democrats disagree.

But the firing of James Comey may have hardened partisan attitudes even more. Comey is not popular - as many dislike him as like him. His decisions to exonerate Hillary Clinton for using a private email server and then to reopen the investigation days before the 2016 election divide the country.

But Comey’s statements are believed. Two in three agree with him that Clinton’s server use was “careless” (and 46% say her actions jeopardized national security). When asked to compare Comey’s report that he was asked by the President to soften the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties with Russia with Trump’s denial, Americans are much more likely to believe Comey than Trump.

The public is divided over Comey’s general honesty, but he scores higher than the President on this measure (in this poll, 30% say Donald Trump is honest and trustworthy, but 52% disagree). More Americans say that the Russia investigation and Comey’s unwillingness to pledge loyalty to the President were major factors in Trump’s decision, more than say Comey’s management of the Clinton emails or claims of “poor morale” at the FBI were important.

As for the appointment of Robert Mueller, a former FBI head, as Special Counsel for the Russia investigation, Americans approve. Not only that, but more think the FBI investigation is likely to be a serious inquiry to find out what really happened than a politically motivated attempt to embarrass the President. Republicans disagree. But like Democrats and independents, they approve of the appointment of the special counsel.

Republicans support the special counsel even though most agree with the President’s claim that the investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Russians is the “single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.”

Mueller himself is unknown to a majority of the public, though both Democrats and Republicans who have an opinion of him are favorable.

The President’s overall approval rating remains at 39%, the same as it was last week. 51% disapprove.