Staff writers Kristina Torres and Aaron Gould Sheinin contributed to this article.
Donald Trump may have carried Georgia in November, but an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Friday shows the president-elect still has plenty of work to do to convince the state’s voters that he’s the right person for the job.
Nearly one-half of the state’s voters have an unfavorable view of the New York Republican, although that number has fallen sharply in the past three months. Georgians are split, largely down party lines, over his handling of the transition. And one-third of the poll’s respondents are convinced he’ll be a poor or terrible commander in chief.
“I don’t like how he makes fun of people when he was running for president. He doesn’t care about the poor. And he seems to fight with everyone,” said Annie Jones, an Atlanta retiree who has dismal hopes for Trump’s presidency. “But I guess we have to wait and see what he’ll do.”
At the same time, Georgia Republicans, who rallied around Trump in the final months of the race, have shown no sign of abandoning him. Nearly 90 percent of the poll’s GOP respondents gave him favorable reviews, and nearly the same margin said he’ll be a good or great president.
“He’s a fighter. He was able to withstand all the attacks, and that’s such a necessity for a president,” said Laura Armstrong, a stay-at-home mom from Acworth and a longtime Republican. “I listened to his speeches very carefully, and I felt like he has the potential to be what this country needs at this time.”
A newfound ‘energy’
The poll is the AJC’s first since Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton two months ago. His 5-point win in Georgia was the closest presidential contest in the state since Bill Clinton’s narrow victory in 1992, and he took an unusual path to win the state.
The Republican lost all of the core metro Atlanta counties, including the GOP strongholds of Cobb and Gwinnett. But he racked up huge vote totals across rural Georgia, appealing to voters such as Lynn Hall, a 65-year-old retiree from Ocilla.
“I just feel there is an energy I have not seen. I’m retired and older, so I’ve seen a number of presidents come and go. I feel very optimistic there is change and the people that have pretty much been lost in the shuffle and not part of the political machine feel they have a voice.”
A plurality — 47 percent — approve of Trump’s picks so far to fill out his Cabinet and administration. He tapped U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Roswell to be his health secretary in December, and he is said to be closing in on former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to run the Agriculture Department.
Matt Janor, a 26-year-old Gwinnett County electrician, is a Trump supporter — but is among those with mixed feelings about how he is piecing together his administration.
He’s worried about a potential for conflicts of interest with picks of business leaders to Cabinet posts — he singled out ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, who was tapped as Trump’s secretary of state. But he likes some of the other appointments, including retired Gen. James Mattis as the head of the Department of Defense.
“I agree with him,” Janor said. “We should have someone a little more aggressive, more like General Patton.”
And even some of his opponents are split on the effect he could have on the Peach State’s future. About one-half believe he’ll bring positive change, one-quarter say he’ll harm the state and nearly one-third say he’ll have no lasting impact at all.
“No, I don’t think he’s going to do as much as he thinks he’s going to do. It doesn’t work like that. It has to go through a process,” said Lynnette Smith, a 46-year-old sales representative in Gwinnett County. “And he has some pretty ambitious ideas — no, he has some pretty ambitious words.”
A ‘verbal bully’
The findings point to a longer-term problem for Republicans, who control every statewide office in Georgia but are riven by deep divisions. Nearly one-half of the state’s voters have an unfavorable view of the GOP, including a majority of independent voters. Democrats fared even worse — 56 percent of the poll’s respondents had a dim view of the party.
“The biggest factor in my mind is the lack of ability of both parties to work together to solve problems and accomplish anything,” said Ned Blodgett, a 46-year-old sales associate from Smyrna who gave both parties poor reviews. “The polarization has made government completely ineffective.”
And yet President Barack Obama will leave office with a solid approval rating among Georgia voters, at 50 percent of the electorate. Democrats overwhelmingly approved of his job performance the past eight years, Republicans rejected it and independent voters, who tend to vote for the GOP in Georgia, were nearly split.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s approval rating crossed into positive territory — at 52 percent — on the eve of this year’s legislative session. That includes more than one-third of Democrats and nearly one-half of independents. The governor is pushing a new plan to help failing schools after a more sweeping version was defeated at the polls.
“He’s all right. He’s always got a few items in the fire, and he’s done a good job,” said Ken Poyntor, an 88-year-old retiree from Conyers. “He’s a run-of-the-mill politician, and that’s fine.”
As for Trump, even some of his critics are keeping their fingers crossed. Jerimiah McClary, a corporate trainer who lives in Gwinnett County, said he has concerns about Trump but that he hopes he will do well and set a positive tone for the nation. Still, he added, he’s worried about Trump’s social media messages.
“I wish there was more focus on the running of the country,” the 49-year-old said. “He’s still heavily tweeting, and the thing I see he’s doing is he’s making bullying acceptable. Impressionable kids see this president can call guys names. … He’s making it OK to be a verbal bully.”
Other Trump supporters urge a dose of patience over the next few months.
“We need somebody to bring us together. He’s not a hard-core raging conservative, and he never has been,” Armstrong said. “He gets it. And he understands the real agenda because he hasn’t been sucked into the vacuum of Washington.”
About the poll
This Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll surveyed 919 registered voters statewide from Jan. 2 to Jan. 5. The margin of error for each response is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The survey, conducted by Abt SRBI, used both land-line and cellphones. The data are weighted based on mode (cell-only, land-line-only and mixed), region (metro vs. nonmetro), gender, age, race, education and ethnicity (Hispanic vs. non-Hispanic). Some totals may not equal 100 percent due to rounding.
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