Never a better time to be an American? A substantial majority disagrees with that

Bob Kustra
Bob Kustra

To hear reports from Idaho’s elected officials in Washington, political life in America is just one gigantic bowl of cherries. With President Donald Trump in charge, all is well in the nation. One of our U.S. senators during a recent visit to Boise gushed that “there’s never been a better time to be an American.”

Fortunately for Idahoans, there are more objective accounts of how the nation is doing – and of how Americans view the condition and health of the nation.

Polling has been a mainstay of American politics and culture since 1935, when George Gallup released his first poll. At the time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was implementing his New Deal agenda, and Gallup’s polls showed Americans were wary of the increased spending on federal projects. Gallup has always called the shots as the people see them.

Fast-forward to 2019 and we find numerous polling organizations in the political arena taking the political temperature of citizens and voters. One that has emerged as most reliable and accurate is the Quinnipiac University Poll, based at Quinnipiac University. News organizations across the political spectrum use the poll, including Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and others.

Some of Quinnipiac’s recent polls inject a heavy dose of truth serum into misleading reports and opinions, such as the claim that there has never been a better time to be an American, when many Americans yearn for that “better America day” when their president was not Donald Trump.

Could we not agree that one important gauge of whether this is the greatest time to be an American is what Americans think of their presidential leadership? How could this be the best time if our president does not have the support of a majority of the American people, if they do not trust him, if they do not believe him and, most critically, if they think he has broken the law in the run-up to his presidency or in the White House?

So let’s check in with the American people. And before we get to the Quinnipiac Poll, let’s take a look at how the granddaddy of polling, the Gallup poll, summed up its tracking of presidential approval ratings, including those of President Trump. It makes Nixon look respectable, almost!

According to Gallup in January, “Trump has now registered the lowest first- and second-year job approval averages of elected presidents since World War II, and, at 39 percent approval in his presidency to date, is well on his way to having the lowest average approval rating for any president.”

Surely not a very good sign that America is better than ever. Perhaps we’ll find evidence of what a great time it is to be an American in other polling evidence. The Quinnipiac Poll of just a few weeks ago can help. What better way to judge what the American people think of their president than to compare his truthfulness to a convicted felon, none other than Michael Cohen, who testified before Congress about his former client, Trump, and who will be going off to the federal penitentiary soon.

When asked whether they believe Cohen or Trump, more Americans believed Cohen than Trump by 50 percent to 35 percent. According to the same poll, most Americans also believe Donald Trump has committed a crime since he became president, by 45 percent to 43 percent – and by a whopping margin of 64 percent to 23 percent, Americans believe Trump committed a crime before becoming president. Among his fellow Republicans — if Trump can truly be labeled a Republican — only 48 percent believe he didn’t commit crimes before becoming president, while 33 believe he did and the rest are just not sure.

If there is any good news for Trump in this poll, it is the overwhelming support Republicans gave his performance in office, by an 82 percent to 12 percent margin. (Just in case you wonder where the 12 percent comes from, you’re reading the opinion of one of them.) Also, American voters say by a margin of 58 percent to 35 percent that Congress should not initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump, but Americans by the same margin say that Congress should do more to investigate Cohen’s claims about President Trump’s unethical and illegal behavior.

With 58 percent of Americans believing in more investigations, Republican whining about the congressional hearings rings hollow with a substantial majority of Americans. Politico pros often call an election a landslide if the leading candidate won by 10 or even 15 points. So in the parlance of election outcomes, Americans have registered in landslide proportion in favor of congressional investigations of the Trump administration.

These polling numbers may shed some light on why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is discouraging any talk or action of impeachment among her fellow House Democrats. As she said so dismissively and accurately, “he’s not worth it.” Republicans have been salivating over the opportunity to energize the Trump base all over again with an impeachment proceeding, but Pelosi is smart enough to see past that to 2020, when Trump will serve as a lightning rod for moderate Republicans, Democrats and Independent voters.

The next time one of our elected officials from Washington defends Trump’s behavior and conduct in office, just remember that they live in a political neverland where they fail to deal realistically with the storm headed their way in 2020. And behind all that bravado, they know it’s coming.

Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio and is a member of the Statesman editorial board.