Few first ladies have been as low-profile as Melania Trump in her husband’s first eight months in the White House.
But according to a new CNN poll, Melania is not only more popular than her husband, she has experienced a major surge in popularity over the last several months.
Forty four percent of respondents say they had a favorable opinion of Melania, while 35% had an unfavorable view. President Donald Trump, by contrast, has a 41% favorable/57% unfavorable rating.
Melania is the only one of the four Trump family members tested in the poll with a net positive favorable score. Ivanka Trump is at 41% favorable/41% unfavorable, while her husband, Jared Kushner, is far less well-regarded – 20% favorable as compared to 39% unfavorable.
The trend line in the poll also bodes well for Melania Trump. In February, just 24% of people had a favorable view of her, while 31% saw her in an unfavorable light. Almost one in four at that point had never heard of her; another 21% had no opinion of her.
In this latest CNN poll, the “never heard” of number is down to just 4% – which tells you that as Melania gets better known, she gets better liked. That’s the opposite of how public opinion moves for most politicians; the more people get to see/know them, the less they like what they see. Melania is, of course, not a politician. (More on that below.)
Digging into Melania’s poll numbers, the first thing that jumps off the page is the major gender gap in them. Among men, survey respondents were 21 points more likely to view her favorably, while women who answered were two points more likely to view the first lady unfavorably.
There’s also some evidence in the data that suggests people are de-coupling their views of President Trump from their views of Melania. Among those who disapprove of Donald Trump, just 56% see Melania in a negative light. (One in five of that group see her favorably.)
First ladies being more popular than their husbands is typical. Michelle Obama was more popular than Barack Obama. Laura Bush was more popular than George W. Bush.
The reason is relatively straightforward: The president, because of his job, has to take a series of stances on difficult issues – and no one is going to like all of those decisions all of the time. First ladies are able to pick and choose what to sound off on – making their role typically less controversial.
But Trump – and his family – have been anomalous as it relates to the way people perceive presidents and their families since the moment he began running. His family – especially his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner – have been intimately involved in both his campaign and his White House from the very beginning. Unlike most modern first spouses, Melania chose to remain in New York until their son’s school year finished – only moving to Washington this past summer.
And while there have been plenty of first ladies before her who have disdained the spotlight, Melania has kept one of the lowest profiles of any presidential spouse in modern memory.
It was only this week – in a speech at a United Nations luncheon – that Melania has begun to sketch out what her priorities as first lady will be. Here’s the key bit from that speech:
“Together, we must acknowledge that all too often it is the weakest, most innocent and vulnerable among us – our children – who ultimately suffer the most from the challenges that plague our societies. Whether it is drug addiction, bullying, poverty, disease, trafficking, illiteracy, or hunger, it is the children who are hit first and hardest in any country. And as we all know, the future of every nation rests with the promise of their young people.”
That echoes the message from Melania during the campaign – in which she sought to focus on the dangers of bullying on social media. She faced considerable criticism at the time for apparently having a tin ear – or a blind eye – on the issue, given that her husband was regularly bullying people on- and off-line during the course of the campaign.
“Melania Trump’s time as first lady has been punctuated by her quiet nature and wardrobe choices that get the town talking. But after a low-key summer, it looks like the first lady’s fall will usher in a new phase of public life – one in which she emerges more and likely formally adopts an East Wing agenda.”
Her increased policy profile also coincided with a stepped-up public profile – due to a series of hurricanes that had her traveling with her husband to the disaster areas to lend a hand.
Donald Trump, for one, seems to understand that his wife is a major asset to his still-struggling political fortunes.
“I’m going turn it over to the star of the Trump family,” Trump said while introducing his wife at a recent White House Historical Association dinner. “They love her out there. We walked all over Florida, we walked all over Texas, and they’re loving Melania.”