The number almost hits you in the face: Less than one in three people in the new CNN-SSRS poll believe that President Donald Trump is honest and trustworthy.
Two-thirds of the country don’t think you can trust this president! They don’t think he is honest! That’s a remarkable finding.
It’s also virtually the exact same way that voters judged Trump on the question of being honest and trustworthy on November 8, 2016 – the day he was elected president.
According to the 2016 exit poll, just 33% said Trump was honest and trustworthy while 64% said he wasn’t. Trump, not surprisingly, won 94% of the vote among the people who said he was honest and trustworthy. Far more remarkably, he won 20% of the vote among people who said he wasn’t. So, one in every five people who voted for Trump did not believe he was honest or trustworthy.
All of this is to say that while most politicians would see just one third of voters viewing them as honest as a political catastrophe, that number may matter less to Trump’s political future than you might think. The vast preponderance of voters in the 2016 election thought he was neither honest nor trustworthy – and he won anyway!
What that tells us is that other factors mattered more in voters’ minds than Trump’s truthfulness. They viewed him as a change agent in a moment in which they badly wanted to shake up the status quo. They saw him as unconventional in a moment where conventional thinking had failed them. And perhaps most importantly, they didn’t trust the person Trump was running against; just 36% said Hillary Clinton was honest and trustworthy while 61% said she wasn’t. With the whole thinking-you-can-believe-and-trust-your-president thing off the table, voters went with the candidate who seemed more likely to bring change.
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It remains to be seen whether that same dynamic will hold in 2020 for Trump. What’s clear is this: He has done nothing to reassure voters that he can or should be trusted. In his first 592 days in office, Trump said 4,713 things that were either misleading or outright false, according to a count maintained by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog. That’s an average of eight falsehoods or mistruths a day. EIGHT.
And it’s not just minor things on which Trump is fudging the facts. He is trying to suggest that Bob Woodward’s book detailing the first year of the Trump White House is a fiction while also decrying and trying to root out those within the White House walls who leaked information to Woodward. Trump initially cited a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the reason for his firing of former FBI Director James Comey only to acknowledge to NBC’s Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey with or without the memo because he was thinking about “this Russia thing.” Trump initially said he had no idea about either the payment made by Michael Cohen to porn star Stormy Daniels or where the money came from. It turned out that the money came from Trump himself.
The record is stunning. This is a President who simply lacks concern for ensuring that what he says comports with fact. In a normal world, that would be almost immediately disqualifying for a president. But in a normal world, Donald Trump never even sniffs the presidency.
He was not punished for his lack of truthfulness during the campaign (and the exit polls suggest people were well aware of it). Does that mean that we are in some sort of post-truth political moment where people expect politicians to lie to them and, as a result, don’t penalize the pols who do exactly that? Is Trump a lone exception to this rule, as he is to so many other conventional political ideas? Or was the willingness to give him a pass on, you know, telling the truth simply a moment in time – the result of an overwhelming desire to try something different and the belief that Clinton wasn’t any better?
We won’t know those answers until 2020. But don’t assume that simply because two thirds of voters don’t trust Trump, he’s a stone-cold loser in his re-election race. If being regarded as honest and trustworthy was a sine qua non for voters, Trump wouldn’t have been elected in the first place.