Most Americans See Trump As Divisive

A new poll shows, unsurprisingly, that the vast majority of Americans see Donald Trump as a divider rather than a uniter

Donald Trump Shrug

A new poll from ABC News and The Washington Post finds that a majority of Americans see the President as being divisive:

President Trump’s weekend commentary on protests in the NFL was unsurprising in some respects. It’s certainly unusual for a president to weigh in repeatedly on what’s happening in professional sports, but we’ve come to expect the unusual from Trump. It was also unsurprising that Trump injected himself into a fraught political subject, standing firmly in opposition to those players who choose to kneel during the national anthem as an expression of their concern about racial divides in the country. Trump’s language was unequivocal in a way that he hasn’t been in response to other protests — such as those in Charlottesville last month.

Washington Post-ABC polling released Sunday suggests that, even before Trump inserted himself into the NFL protests, most Americans viewed him as a president who was doing more to divide the country than to unite it. About two-thirds of Americans felt that Trump, despite his insistent rhetoric that the country needs to unite, was, in fact, driving Americans apart. About 3 in 10 said Trump had helped unite the country.

We asked this same question shortly after the election, with dramatically different results. At that point, a plurality of Americans thought Trump was likely to do more to divide than to unite the country — but attitudes were about split.

We asked this same question shortly after the election, with dramatically different results. At that point, a plurality of Americans thought Trump was likely to do more to divide than to unite the country — but attitudes were about split.

Neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama ever had so many Americans view them as being so divisive. Bush’s worst marks on the question came in June 2005 in Post-ABC polling, when 55 percent of the country viewed him as doing more to divide than to unite. Obama’s worst numbers came in September 2014, when 55 percent viewed him as divisive. This was shortly after the protests in Ferguson, Mo., a period during which tensions over race relations were spiking.

Here are the charts showing the results of the poll:

WaPo Poll Chart One

Also, as noted, the number of Americans who believe Trump is divisive has increased markedly since the election:

WaPo Poll Chart Two

And, finally, as noted, nearly every demographic group agrees that Trump is divisive:

WaPo Poll Chart Three

As noted, this poll was conducted before Trump’s comments over the weekend regarding the National Anthem protests in the National Football League, which he continued in a second series of tweets yesterday evening and this morning. To a large degree, no doubt, they are reflective of his comments both in the immediate aftermath of the Charlottesville violence last month, in the days that followed, and as recently as just a week or so ago, in which he claimed that ‘both sides’ were responsible for violence and that the pro-Confederate rally that sparked the violence was attended by “very fine people.’ Those comments, of course, were not only overwhelmingly condemned by even some people close to Trump such as Cabinet members such as Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson, and James Mattis and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but also by a majority of Americans according to polling that took place in the immediate aftermath of the President’s remarks. In that sense, I suppose you could say with some irony that the President has managed to unite people around the idea that he has been the most divisive President to sit in the White House since the end of World War Two at least, and most likely going back much, much further than that.

None of this should come as a surprise, of course. From the moment that he entered the race, Trump has built his entire political reputation and the movement that led to the election on the idea of dividing America. Principally, of course, this has been upon racial and ethnic lines, as can be seen regarding the rhetoric he has used against immigrants, women, the disabled, Muslims, foreigners in general, the media, and anyone who disagrees with him. He has turned his crowds of supporters into raving lunatics by using campaign rally speeches to throw red meat on the most divisive issues facing the nation, and he has done so not only knowingly but with a rather obvious sense of glee at the chaos that he is causing. If anything, one could say that this is Trump’s governing plan, to get the nation so worked about divisive issues such as race, patriotism, and protests that nobody is paying attention to his actual political agenda.

In some sense, of course, these poll results are reflective of the political divisiveness that has been apparent in this country for at least the past twenty years, but which began to manifest itself in particularly distasteful ways during the Presidency of Barack Obama. Both during the campaign and after he took office, the right side of the political spectrum took positions regarding Obama that went beyond mere opposition to outright hostility. In some cases, this manifested itself in things such as questioning whether or not Obama was even American, engaging in exceedingly overblown attacks on his wife for promoting things such as healthy eating by children, and what often became not so thinly veiled appeals to racism and prejudice. While that didn’t represent a majority of those opposed to the President, it was allowed to fester right alongside legitimate policy disagreements and was fed by the constant attack from utterly hostile sources such as Fox News Channel, Breitbart, Drudge, conservative talk radio, and many, but not all, segments of the conservative blogosphere. To be sure, there are similar people on the left, and they have existed in both political camps since time immemorial. It wasn’t until the Obama years, though, that it seemed as though the political opposition was taken over by the worst aspects of that opposition, and now those same people have their champion in the Oval Office. This suggests that the political divide in this country is going to get worse over the next four to eight years even as we face challenges on a number of domestic and international fronts that can clearly only be handled if we are far more united than we are today.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    I’m starting to think maybe white people are just stupid.

  2. reid says:

    @michael reynolds: At the least, there’s a lot more of them than I realized. I weep inside when I read comments on political facebook posts and news site comment sections. So much outrage and stupidity. These are the millions of Rush listeners and Fox viewers, I guess.

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    For what it’s worth:

    But former Sen. Rick Santorum, who has been working to get the latest Obamacare repeal bill passed, said Trump’s energies could be better spent on trying to get that bill through the Senate. “He is taking his eye off the ball,” the Pennsylvania Republican said on “State of the Union.”

  4. CSK says:

    It’s important to understand that Trumpkins like the idea of a divided country. It’s them versus everyone else. And they regard the U.S.A. as their country, and they’re going to take it back from the rest of us, by God.

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: Because the Republicans and their kleptocratic daddies are utterly dependent on maintaining a white identity, white people are necessarily the most heavily propagandized group in the country.

    Propaganda melts the brain.

  6. Paul Hooson says:

    I’m a mix of Jewish and some Hispanic, where Trump’s Charlottesville reaction was absolutely disgusting to most Jews. Trump has little support from either the Jewish or Hispanic communities for good reason.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    Of the 1/3 of Republicans who think Trump is divisive, how many are deplorables who think that’s a good thing?

  8. CSK says:


    Oh, plenty, as I pointed out above. They think of themselves as being in the driver’s seat now.

  9. Slugger says:

    Trump has not reached out to opponents; to a large extent that is simply not his style. I do think that he has been playing to his base more in the last few weeks because there is a danger that their support is possibly eroding. His signature promises on Obamacare, the Mexican wall, trade policy, etc, appear to be going nowhere. The White House staff, Spicer, Priebus, Bannon, etc, appear to be some strange version of the Survivor reality show. On DACA, he needed Pelosi. Iran and North Korea are not coming to heel. In view of this record, the guys waiting to go back to their coal mining jobs are going to lose the faith. The Governor of Ohio is opposing the latest version of Trumpcare; Sarah Palin is campaigning for the other guy in Alabama, and Roger Goodell just told him to shut up. It makes sense to attack Hillary; it feels so good to lead “lock’er up” cheers.
    I don’t expect much change. Some things just have to be endured.
    I am very thrilled by the success of the Cassini-Huygens mission. Let’s discuss our next great planetary mission. I like the idea of landing on Titan.

  10. Liberal Capitalist says:


    Let’s discuss our next great planetary mission.

    Well, my wife and I are going on three mileage runs on American Air: Shanghai, Bangkok and Chengdu.

    Gotta keep that AA Exec Plat status 🙂

    Wait… did you mean INTERplanetary?

    (… never mind.)

  11. michilines says:

    Such pettiness and stupidity:

    Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!

  12. Kylopod says:

    @Paul Hooson:

    Trump has little support from either the Jewish or Hispanic communities for good reason.

    The thing is, the level of support Trump got from Jews and Hispanics, while low, was scarcely different from previous Republican nominees. He actually did slightly better than Romney among Hispanics. And he did better among Jews than McCain and about the same as Bush.

    So I’d question the “for good reason” part of your assumption. Jews and Hispanics have been voting Democrat for a long time, but Trump did not do appreciably worse among either group than a standard Republican even though he was playing pretty much the same dance with the white nationalists during the campaign as he did in Charlottesville. Remember how he neglected to disavow David Duke until being practically dragged kicking and screaming to do so? Remember the “Mexican” judge? The Star of David tweet? If those things couldn’t drive away hoards of Jewish and Hispanic voters who ordinarily vote Republican, it’s hard to imagine what could.

    Trump benefited enormously from the fact that most people in this country vote the way they’re used to voting, and virtually nothing can budge them from their habits. That’s why even now he retains about an 80% approval rating among Republicans while most of the rest of the country can’t stand him. He gets little support from ethnic and religious minorities, but then neither does any other modern Republican. The things that are utterly abnormal about him just don’t have the impact we might expect them to. That’s one of the lessons of 2016, and I fear not enough people have absorbed it yet.

  13. Davebo says:

    @michilines: Well he had to say something when his good buddy Tom Brady locked arms with team mates during the anthem.

  14. michilines says:


    Do you think he realizes that is sounds an awful lot like Animal Farm?

  15. CSK says:


    Do you think Trump has any idea what Animal Farm is? The man doesn’t read, and is proud of the fact.

  16. Bruce Henry says:


    He’s never read it.

  17. DrDaveT says:

    As with many political polls, these suffer from the fact that key words in the questions mean something totally different to various people being polled.

    Of course Trump is a ‘uniter’. He is uniting real Americans (i.e. white, male, ignorant) against all of those faux-Americans who are trying to supplant them from their rightful place at the top. It’s not ‘divisive’ to want to put blacks and Hispanics and women back in their place; they don’t count.

    To quote an American President: #sad.

  18. Kylopod says:

    @DrDaveT: I wouldn’t read too much into the wording of the poll. In this case it comes down simply to cheerleading for one’s team, and so anything that sounds like a criticism of Trump, such as that he’s a divider rather than a uniter, they reject out of hand. That’s pretty much it; I doubt it goes any deeper.

  19. Gromitt Gunn says:

    If you have never lived among US white evangelical Christians as one of them, it is very hard to understand the extent to which their worldview is dependent upon them seeing themselves as martyrs being set upon by the world. Even if they are the dominant force in their local environment, they have to find some outside force that seeks to destroy their way of life that they *must* hold strong against.

    Once you fully comprehend that portion of the mindset, so many other things about them fall in to place.

  20. Terrye Cravens says:

    A new poll is out…28% of the American people believe Trump is a uniter…66% believe he is a divider. And it is exhausting. We careen from one idiotic Trump tantrum to the next day after day. Who knows who will be insulted tomorrow? The Pope? It never ends. And that is going to cause Trump some trouble I think. People are tired of it.

  21. Scott O says:

    “In some sense, of course, these poll results are reflective of the political divisiveness that has been apparent in this country for at least the past twenty years, but which began to manifest itself in particularly distasteful ways during the Presidency of Barack Obama.”

    Doug, thanks for saying this. I think it’s important to note that this is not a Trump thing, it’s a GOP thing. They didn’t chose him as their nominee in spite of the fact that he’s an a**hole, they chose him because he’s an a**hole.

  22. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michilines: I doubt that he knows that Animal Farm is a novel.

  23. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: “…it is very hard to understand the extent to which their [Evangelical Christians] worldview is dependent upon them seeing themselves as martyrs being set upon by the world.”

    A good book on this particular topic is Less Than Conquerors: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century, by Douglas W Frank. He does a good job of charting the history of both the martyrdom aspect of Christianity across several historical periods and how that has played out in reaching to “end of days” scenaria of various sorts. A good book on why this has been destructive to Christianity as a religious system can be found in a book by Jacques Elhul called The Subversion of Christianity. I doubt most people will be interested in the topic, but in case there are, these two books do a good job of challenging Evangelicals to change their world view–a worthwhile cause at least in my opinion.

  24. cian says:

    But that’s the plan- to continuously divide the people and increase the hate, disrupt the normal running of government and weaken America’s role as the superpower most likely to keep the world on some kind of even keel (the usual caveats accepted).

    When Bannon’s right hand man gets to write the President’s speech to the UN, white supremacists and Neo-Nazis everywhere know they are winning. You can’t build a new society without first destroying the old and that process has been happening for quite awhile now- first through accident (amoral politicians prepared to do anything to get elected) and then by design with those who saw the arrival of the tea party as the beginning of something that could be controlled.

    The Koch brothers were initially disturbed to see their creation taken over by Bannon, but have since made peace with this new reality seeing in it the possibility of having their father’s vision of an America run by and for its white majority finally delivered. Bannon’s plan to oversee the collapse of American democracy will leave many millions of victims in its wake, but the right-wing billionaires now backing him and others will not be among that number..

    There’s a ways to go yet, but the first part is now complete- to see if a mad man could be elected and would the political system accept and accommodate itself to the gradual destruction of the role of President as a leader for all Americans and not just the few. With Trump’s latest poll numbers showing a steadying, and this despite the fact that the dog whistle of old has now become a full on train whistle, I think one can begin to safely say ‘mission accomplished’.

  25. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: he’s not an Evangelist, but one of my friends has been slowly drifting into the “everyone’s against me” self-pity trap. I’m starting to think that at least half of his present problems are due to his unconscious self-sabotage. And of course, his continued litany of failures are never his fault.

    (At some point, you have to wonder about people with continuous bad luck.)

  26. Stormy Dragon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If a parrot tells you it wants a cracker, getting into an argument with it about whether cookies are better is pointless because the parrot doesn’t actually know what it just said. It’s just trying to signal it wants attention or at best has a general association between those noises and getting fed.

    Most political speech is similarly pre-symbolic. Most of the people responding to this poll don’t really know what it means for a president to “unite” or “divide” the country. All the responses really tell you is “I’m a republican” or “I’m not a republican”.

  27. teve tory says:

    Our worst president, coming immediately after our best one.

    ETA: WTF is up with this site? It’s taking over 3 minutes to finish loading these days.

  28. teve tory says:

    It’s not ‘divisive’ to want to put blacks and Hispanics and women back in their place; they don’t count.

    I remember a national review writer saying Obama’s poll numbers weren’t really as high as they seemed because he was polling extremely high with minorities.

  29. Mikey says:

    @teve tory: Maybe they only wanted the minorities polled 3/5 as much.

  30. al-Ameda says:

    @Terrye Cravens:

    A new poll is out…28% of the American people believe Trump is a uniter…66% believe he is a divider.

    There again, the Crazification Factor of 27% isn’t far from this.

    Why I dislike 27% of the people on ‘my side’:

    I live in West Sonoma County, about 65 miles north of San Francisco where I work. Up here there are a lot of aging hipsters, as well as newer younger Greens-ters. But it’s the oldster crew that needs to be sent to work camps

    … but I digress.

    Briefly, on Sunday morning I went to get a coffee and read the NYT. I happened to be seated at a bench table next to a couple of those aging hipsters, who were talking about Trump. Basically this guy and his friend agreed that Hillary was as unacceptable as Trump, and they did not, and still do not, see a difference between voting for either one of them.

    And of course one was a Sanders guy, the other was in the Jill Stein camp.

    I foolishly asked them if they really thought there was no difference between Trump and Clinton given the fact that Trump’s cabinet members, like Zinke at Interior and Pruitt at EPA, are rolling back important environmental and land protection regulations, something that Clinton and Democrats would not do?

    Well, they were having none of that – they said we’re screwed regardless of which Democrat or Republican was elected. I said, then you must be pleased with Trump, because if things get bad enough, which they might, then surely Jill Stein has a strong chance, right? They actually agreed with that preposterous hypothesis.

    No offense intended but, f*** these people.

  31. Franklin says:

    @Terrye Cravens:

    We careen from one idiotic Trump tantrum to the next day after day. Who knows who will be insulted tomorrow? The Pope?

    He’s come very close, although it’s largely in response to the Pope’s attacks on his policies:

  32. MBunge says:

    Trump is divisive. The divisiveness is then magnified by a media and political establishment that’s out to make everything Trump does or says look and sound as bad as possible.

    The latest example is Puerto Rico, where there was a recent spate of liberals trying to pretend that the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria was awful because Trump is a racist, racist, racist. This was based on absolutely nothing except liberals ripping Trump for not doing some totally arbitrary thing they think he should be doing about Puerto Rico, without spending even five minutes to find out what is actually happening, which is that the FEMA response is about as good as anyone could expect.

    And I’ve just seen the latest iteration of this same thing, people in the media trying to make a story out of a Trump tweet where in talking about Puerto Rico, he mentions the huge debt the government has to deal with.

    Here’s what Trump tweeted.

    “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..

    …It’s old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars….

    …owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well.”

    There are now multiple stories in the media that are all explicitly arguing that there’s something wrong with what Trump has done. Yet all he’s done is taken advantage of the attention being paid to Puerto Rico to point out the plain and simple truth, they’ve got a lot of very serious problems that need to be dealt with above and beyond recovering from Hurricane Maria.


    Is being hit by a hurricane like being a rape victim? Do we have to hide information to protect Puerto Rico’s honor? Isn’t this the exact time to try and get people to recognize that Puerto Rico is in bad shape and needs help, and hold politicians on the island and in DC accountable if they don’t do anything about it?

    There’s nothing in those tweets that blames anyone (like the Democrats who run Puerto Rico) or tries to politicize the situation. Trump is literally doing the equivalent of saying the sky is blue. Would Obama have tweeted it? Probably not but that does not mean there’s anything actually wrong with Trump doing it.

    Again, Trump is divisive just like Captain Queeg was actually unstable in “The Caine Mutiny.” But even if you think Trump is Queeg, that doesn’t make it okay for you to be Lt. Keefer.


  33. DrDaveT says:



    Since you apparently channel The Donald better than Libruls do, perhaps you could interpret this part of it for us:

    Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.

    What, exactly, does he mean when he says the debt to Wall Street “must be dealt with”, in a tweet ostensibly about how badly they need a helping hand at the moment?