A majority of Americans think President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., was “not strong enough,” according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
Fifty-two percent of respondents said so, as compared with just over a quarter (27 percent) who thought it was strong enough.
From what you have heard or seen about the protests and events in Charlottesville this past weekend, do you feel President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville has been ______?
NOT STRONG ENOUGH
Eighty percent of the poll of 1,125 Americans was conducted following the president’s controversial comments Tuesday blaming “both sides” for the violence that left one woman dead after a man drove his car into a crowd of protesters. The man was in Charlottesville for a march that included white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK.
As to be expected when looking at questions of the president’s leadership, there’s a partisan split — 79 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents agree that Trump wasn’t strong enough, but 59 percent of Republicans believe he was.
That finding comes despite several Republican elected officials and the two past living Republican presidents taking pointedly different positions than did Trump, unequivocally denouncing these groups.
Trump’s position has shifted three times since Saturday. In a statement Saturday, he raised eyebrows by denouncing violence on “many sides” and not calling out white nationalist groups by name. Amid criticism and pressure, he made another statement two days later, naming those groups. Many criticized the president for waiting two days and believed he was not strong enough in his denunciations.
Then Tuesday, Trump took to the microphones again, and this time, he was ready to battle with the news media. In an unscripted press conference, the president dug in, defending his original statement Saturday. He said his hesitance to call out white supremacist groups was due to wanting all the “facts” first; he blamed “both sides” for the violence, including the “alt-left” (a phrase created by the alt-right); and he defended some of the marchers in the rally staged by white nationalists.
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There is no equivocating from Americans as to how they feel about these groups. Americans have extremely low views of the “alt-right,” white nationalists, white supremacists and the KKK.
A majority (50 percent), though, said they mostly agree with Black Lives Matter, including a plurality of whites.
“The president’s moral equivalency is just not adding up,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
The poll also found a strong consensus across the political spectrum that the car attack should be investigated as an act of domestic terrorism — 67 percent overall said it should be. By party, 76 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents, 60 percent of Republicans, even 58 percent of Trump supporters agree.
Trump himself, however, declined to forcefully call it terrorism.
“The driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country,” Trump said. “And that is, you can call it terrorism, you can call it murder, you can call it whatever you want, I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. That’s what I’d call it. Because there is a question. Is it murder, is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.”
Trump’s approval rating continues to hang on historically low rungs. Just 35 percent approve of the job the president is doing overall.
“The president’s response has clearly been out of step,” Miringoff said. “He’s talking to the fringe, not the majority of Americans.”
A majority also thinks race relations have worsened in the past year since Trump has been president. There’s a big divide by party on that, too. Democrats and independents think they’ve gotten worse, but most Republicans think they’re about the same.
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