WASHINGTON — Americans are more satisfied with the state of the U.S. economy than they have been in nearly two decades, but their soaring economic enthusiasm has done little to soften the public's personal dislike of President Donald Trump, a new poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal shows.
And at a moment when the Republican Party could be reaping the benefits of the good economic news, the GOP's congressional majorities remain in jeopardy as a sizable group of voters prepare to make their indignation toward the president known at the ballot box in November.
"Personal aspects are the shock absorbers, and Donald Trump has no shock absorbers," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
The poll's economic news shows a rosy picture for a nation 10 years removed from a crippling recession. Nearly seven-in-10 Americans say that they are satisfied with the overall state of the economy, a share last seen during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sixty-nine percent say they are either very satisfied (21 percent) or somewhat satisfied (48 percent). That's up sharply just since June 2015, when just 37 percent said they were satisfied.
That economic confidence is also not limited to Trump's own loyalists. Those feeling good about the state of the nation's economy now include 86 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of independents and even a majority — 57 percent — of Democrats.
Additionally, 39 percent of all Americans say they're ready for an economic expansion for themselves and their families, the highest share since 2005.
And while Trump's signature tax reform bill remains unpopular overall, views of the package have improved somewhat since last month. Thirty percent of the public call the bill a good idea, while 38 percent call it a bad idea. That's up from just 24 percent who called the tax plan a good idea in December.
But despite all those data points, Hart notes, Trump remains weighed down by the public's personal dislike, even when his policy positions might otherwise be appealing to many voters.
"There's just such a corrosive negative effect that those positions are not enough to lift those people who are in the middle or who are uncertain about him," Hart says. "That's his challenge."
"Not a role model"
Trump's historically low job approval ratings are well-known, but the new poll gives new insight into how many Americans dislike him personally.
A majority — 52 percent — told pollsters that they don't like Trump personally and that they disapprove of many of his policies. (That's up 9 percent since this time last year.) An additional 17 percent say that, while they agree with Trump on most policy matters, they dislike him personally, a category that includes 26 percent of Republicans.
Just 29 percent overall say that they are confident that Trump has the right set of personal characteristics to be president.
Trump also does not benefit from much public sympathy when it comes to his personal life.
Just 35 percent of Americans feel positive about Trump's role as a family man, while 33 percent say they feel negative. That's a deep personal hole compared to where Barack Obama stood on the same question; in January 2010, 72 percent said they felt good about Obama as a husband and father, while only 5 percent disagreed.
A mere 17 percent say they feel positive about the president's presence as a role model, while 61 percent disagree, including 67 percent of mothers surveyed and 58 percent of fathers.
The midterms and "the black hole"
The poll has some potential good news for Republicans who are nervously eyeing their re-election prospects in November. The Democratic advantage on the generic ballot is down to six points, compared to 11 points last month. In December, 50 percent of Americans said they preferred a Democratic-controlled Congress after the 2018 election, while 39 percent favored one led by Republicans. Now, 49 percent say they want to see a Democratic Congress, while 43 percent pick the GOP to lead on Capitol Hill.
But there is also some evidence that, as in past midterm waves, voters energized by opposition to the president could still be an overwhelming factor in November.
Asked about the message they hope to send with their 2018 vote, 38 percent say they want to send a signal of opposition to Trump, while 26 percent want to signal their support for him and 34 percent say their vote doesn't have to do with the commander in chief at all. In historical context, that 38 percent who say they'll go to the ballot box largely to oppose the president should alarm the GOP; it's the highest percentage of Americans wanting to send a midterm message to the president since October 2006, shortly before George W. Bush's party lost 30 House seats.
McInturff, the GOP pollster, says that Republican campaigns may be able to leverage positive economic news to their benefit, but they will also have to navigate around the "black hole" of Trump's omnipresence in the news cycle.
"This president will make that very hard," McInturff said. "It's very hard to get any traction on anything, so far, other than the president personally."
Biden, Obama top list of popular politicians
As Trump's constant time in the spotlight does little to boost his likeability, the most popular politicians asked about in the January NBC/WSJ poll are those who are out of office entirely — at least for now.
Joe Biden, the former vice president (and potential presidential contender), is viewed favorably by 54 percent of Americans, while just 22 have a negative view.
Former President Barack Obama is viewed positively by 57 percent, while 29 percent give him a thumbs-down.
Also enjoying a strong favorability rating is former President George W. Bush, whose 46 percent approval rating is the highest of his post-presidency.
It's more of a mixed bag for Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate and possible future Senate contender, who is viewed positively by 29 percent of Americans, while 30 percent view him negatively. But Romney is faring better than many of his GOP counterparts currently serving in government, like Paul Ryan (net -5 percent favorability), Mike Pence (net negative -6) and Mitch McConnell (net negative -26)
Oprah Winfrey, who has been discussed as a potential presidential candidate in 2020, has an approval rating that stands at 48 percent positive, 24 percent negative. But there's a huge partisan divide, with 66 percent of Democrats but just 26 percent of Republicans giving her high marks.