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'Wrong track': Public sours on nation's direction after shutdown

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Image: The Capitol during the partial government shutdown in Washington on
The Capitol during the partial government shutdown in Washington on Jan. 24, 2019. -
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J. Scott Applewhite AP
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WASHINGTON — After the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, six-in-10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly 70 percent of them have negative opinions on the state of the nation today, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

"Wrong track," "disarray," "turmoil," "polarized," "concerned," "shambles" and "declining" were some of the answers given by respondents asked to sum up their feelings on the state of America.

"Times are grim," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. "The shutdown is front and center."

The poll — conducted before a deal was reached Friday to temporarily reopen the government — also finds President Donald Trump continuing to receive poor marks from the public as he begins his third year in office, with a majority disapproving of his job and just a third having confidence in his policies and personal characteristics.

But it also shows how the unstable news environment has had little effect on public attitudes about Trump, with many of his numbers essentially unchanged since the start of his presidency.

"This poll looks a lot more like our December data than in October 2013," when the GOP's numbers plummeted during that shutdown more than five years ago, said McInturff.

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According to the poll, only 28 percent of Americans say the nation is headed in the right direction, which is the lowest percentage on this question during Trump's presidency.

By contrast, 63 percent believe the country is on the wrong track — tied for the highest mark since Trump took office.

In addition, asked which word or short phrase they would use to discuss how they feel about the state of America, 68 percent had negative answers, including "disaster," "divided" and "downhill."

Just 17 percent provided a positive word or phrase.

Trump's approval rating remains at 43 percent

As for President Trump's standing, 43 percent of Americans say they approve of his job (including 29 percent who strongly approve), versus 54 percent who disapprove (including 47 percent who strongly disapprove).

Those numbers are unchanged from December, when an equal 43 percent gave Trump a thumbs-up.

But his standing in the NBC News/WSJ survey differs from some other recent national polls, which showed a slight drop in the president's job rating during the government shutdown.

In the current NBC/WSJ poll, 86 percent of Republicans approve of Trump's job — compared with 5 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of independents.

Also in the new survey, just 33 percent of Americans say they are "extremely" or "quite" confident that Trump has the right set of goals and policies to be president - essentially unchanged since January 2017.

And only 28 percent are "extremely" or "quite" confident that Trump has the right set of personal characteristics to be president. Fifty percent say they are "not at all confident," and another 21 percent say they are "only somewhat confident."

Forty-four percent believe Trump has brought the wrong kind of change to the country; 39 percent say he's brought the right kind of change; and 14 percent say he hasn't brought much change either way.

Ranking Trump's presidential qualities — from best to worst

The NBC/WSJ poll also measures eight presidential qualities for Trump. His highest marks (where he scores a "4" or "5" on a 5-point scale):

  • being direct and straightforward in communicating with the American people: 43 percent;
  • changing business as usual in Washington: 39 percent;
  • being effective and getting things done: 38 percent;
  • being a good negotiator: 36 percent.

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His lowest marks:

  • being steady and reliable: 32 percent;
  • being knowledgeable and experienced: 32 percent;
  • being honest and trustworthy: 28 percent;
  • having high personal and ethical standards: 24 percent.

Notably, Trump gets below 50 percent on all eight of these qualities.

Majority puts shutdown blame on Trump

On the issue of the partial government shutdown, which ended (at least for the time being) on Friday, 50 percent say that Trump is more to blame, while 37 percent pointed the finger at Democrats.

Not surprisingly, this blame game is split along partisan lines: 90 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents blame Trump, versus 76 percent of Republicans who blame congressional Democrats.

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Just 39 percent approve of Trump's handling of immigration and border security, compared with 51 percent who approve of his handling of the economy.

And by a 44 percent-to-35 percent margin, respondents believe that the people who want to immigrate to America by coming to the U.S.-Mexico border strengthen the country's values and character, versus 35 percent who think they weaken those things.

Public split on Russia probe's fallout on Trump

Finally, asked if special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has given them more doubts about Trump's presidency or not, 45 percent of Americans said yes, while 48 percent said no.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Jan. 20-23 of 900 adults - almost half reached by cell phone - and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.