The public sees President Trump as impulsive and unthinking, but not necessarily racist

January 18, 2018, 6:00 PM GMT+0

44% of country thinks President Trump is racist; 40% thinks he’s not

President Trump’s problems often seem to be of his own making, as he often speaks off-the-cuff and rapidly tweets. Those behaviors have dominated his public presence – and public opinion of him – since he emerged as a leading presidential contender in 2015. Most American see his impetuousness, and many are troubled. The President is ending his first year in office with majorities thinking he reacts without thinking and ignores his advisors, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. Half believe he has bad judgment and often speaks in error.

However, despite last week’s alleged derogatory presidential comments about countries in the Caribbean, Central America and parts of Africa, less than half the public characterize the President as a racist. But 78% of black Americans say he is racist.

The latest poll was conducted as the President faced criticism about his use of a vulgarity to describe Haiti, El Salvador, and some African countries during a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress, a meeting that took place on the eve of the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Throughout the weekend while the poll was being conducted, there were charges that this slur meant the President was a racist. Americans are divided on whether that is the case.

But the public clearly treats the President’s language at that meeting as another manifestation of something they have thought for a while – that he reacts and speaks without thinking very much. Even most Republicans agree that is the case. Just 31% of Republicans say the President carefully considers what he says.

There has been little improvement on this characteristic during Donald Trump’s first year in office.

When comparing President Trump to other Presidents since World War II, half think he is less organized than other presidents have been. Just 17% describe him as more organized. Many Americans may see this lack of organization as contributing to what they view as not-thought-out statements.

Americans also overwhelmingly recognize that this President – at least sometimes – says things that are demonstrably incorrect. Three quarters, including a majority of Republicans, agree this is the case. Republicans are loath to say this happens often, though half the public thinks this is a frequent behavior.

And when the President speaks in error, partisans give different reasons why. Most Democrats believe the President knows what he is saying is untrue when he says it, while Republicans, by 43% to 27%, say he says untrue things by accident.

There are other negative personal characteristics Americans see in the President that underscores these results. They are things that may not easily be changed, but they all have to do with how he presents himself to the public:

  • By more than two to one (52% to 23%) Americans think the President ignores guidance from his advisers
  • Only 37% think Mr. Trump exercises mostly good judgment; 50% think his judgment is bad (Republicans take the President’s side on this, 76% to 14%).
  • Only 16% overall (29% of Republicans) say the President handles criticism well. 71% say he does not. 58% of Republicans agree with the majority. Less than a third of Republicans believe President Trump handles criticism well.

Throughout the Trump presidency, only one in three have believed the President has the right temperament for the job of President, and 54% say he does not. Similarly, just 32% in this poll think President Trump is honest and trustworthy; 53% do not.

The characterization of the President’s racial attitude and the sharp division on this question may also reflect the difficulty many have in guessing the President’s intentions when he speaks or acts. Asked whether he has “intentionally” tried to win support from white nationalists and racists, less than half the public believes he has. The rest say he hasn’t or that they aren’t sure. 73% of African-Americans, however, are sure – and they say that he has sought white nationalist and racist support intentionally.

38% believe that more than half the President’s supporters are racist. Nearly three in four blacks agree.

Read more topline and table results

Image: Getty