The following post is by Keith Gaby from the EDF Action.
The Trump administration is in the midst of one of the most chaotic presidential launches in American history. Intelligence agencies are reportedly withholding information from the White House for fear of it being passed to Moscow, a senior general has publicly fretted about the stability of the government, and the president creates daily distractions with tweets and false information.
By historical standards, the president is deeply unpopular. A recent CNN poll showed that just 44% of the American people believe he is doing a good job – in what should be his “honeymoon” period. By contrast, a majority of Americans approved of the job performance of the last nine newly elected presidents in their first months in office, averaging a positive rating of 61%.
There were almost as many people (43%) who had “strongly” negative feelings as approved of him at all. How does that compare to former presidents? At this point in their first terms, strong disapproval was Reagan 9%, Clinton 16%, Bush 9%, and Obama 18%. In other words, intense feelings against Trump are more than triple the average of four of his immediate predecessors. Since intensity drives activism and voting in mid-term elections, this is a dangerous sign for the president and his allies in Congress.
The administration’s early moves on environmental policy will not likely be met with favor. During the campaign, Trump said he would dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency and eliminate 70% of governemnt rules and safeguards. The leader of his EPA transition suggested cutting the agency’s staff by two-thirds and the president nominated a famous opponent of clean air and water rules, Scott Pruitt, to lead EPA. But polling suggests moves like these will not sit well, even with those who voted for Trump. A Morning Consult poll revealed that 78% of Trump voters want the same or stronger federal limits on air pollution.
Trump has also said he is not a “big believer” in climate change and wants to end the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which limits carbon pollution. But the same poll showed that 61% of his voters want to “require US companies to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change.”
The public at large, of course, is even less disposed to giving industry whatever it wants. A Quinnipiac Poll found that just 39% of voters want the administration to “remove regulations on businesses and corporations” and only 29% want to end rules “designed to limit climate change”.
Until the next presidential election, the most important impact of the president’s unpopularity will be the effect it has on members of Congress. With his party in control of both houses, and 10 Democratic senators from Trump states up for re-election in 2018, a popular president should be able to push through his agenda. But Congress is watching the spectacle at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue warily. Aligning themselves with a failing president is a dangerous thing.
However, they are not ready to abandon him yet. Because a primary challenge is often the greatest threat to their political careers, most members of the House and Senate focus on views within their own party. At the moment, nearly 90% of Republican voters are sticking with Trump. But even in a highly partisan atmosphere, the missteps of the administration will eventually begin to drag on voters who are now giving Trump the benefit of the doubt as a fellow-Republican. (The polling cited above was taken before the resignation of Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor and the accompanying revelations about Russia. In a Gallup survey taken after the Flynn events, Trump’s job approval had sunk, at least for the moment, to 38%.) And only one-third of Independent voters approve of Mr. Trump.
Despite all that’s happened and historically low approval ratings, the Trump administration still threatens our most important environmental protections. With just executive powers, he could sharply curtail enforcement and strip away important safeguards. But the president’s initial unpopularity, and the incompetence of his White House staff provide progressives with a unique opportunity to limit the damage.