Nearly two-thirds of American voters believe President Donald Trump is doing more to divide the country than he is to unite it, according to a new poll released Wednesday.
The Quinnipiac University Poll reported 62 percent of the voters it surveyed felt that Trump is increasing divisions in the country; 31 percent said they felt the opposite.
The poll reflected public sentiment following violent clashes this month in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white-supremacist groups and protesters who opposed them. A woman was killed after a follower of the so-called alt-right groups drove his car into a crowd.
Trump spoke out several times about the issues and groups involved in Charlottesville, shifting his position from day to day. He drew widespread criticism from many sectors of American society for what was seen as his reluctance to fix blame for the incidents in Charlottesville - most recently his assertion that "both sides" bore responsibility.
Memories of Civil War divisions
The president has contended there were people fomenting violence on both sides of the conflict in Charlottesville, which began with a demonstration by right-wing groups calling for preservation of a statue of the commander of Confederate armed forces - the rebel side in the American Civil War in the mid-19th century.
Trump's position was supported by the police chief in Charlottesville, who said there were “mutually combating individuals in the crowd” when fighting broke out on the night of August 11 between torch-bearing right-wing marchers and groups opposed to their presence. The president has said on several occasions that he condemns white-supremacist groups and believes all racist sentiment is "evil," but his own recounting of his words has omitted controversial phrases that aroused the most opposition - that "both sides" were responsible, or, as he said after the fatal hit-and-run car attack a day later, that "many sides" were involved.
Asked specifically how they felt about Trump's response to the Charlottesville violence, 60 percent of voters said they disapproved; 32 percent said they approved of the president's handling of the issue.
Are racial tensions on the rise in America?
About the same number of poll respondents – 59 percent – said Trump’s decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups. Only three percent of American voters said they feel the president's words and actions have had a negative effect on white supremacists; 35 percent said they felt the president's statements have had no impact on white supremacists or similarly polarized political action groups.
Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said the events in Charlottesville, and Trump's comments about them, have fueled a perception in America that racial tensions are on the rise.
“Elected on his strength as a deal-maker, but now overwhelmingly considered a divider, President Donald Trump has a big negative job approval rating and low scores on handling issues,” Malloy said Wednesday.
Many news reports during the past two weeks have focused on campaigns by activists - opponents of the white supremacists - who want to remove all public monuments and statues honoring leading figures in the Confederate States of America, the losing side in the Civil War. However, opinion surveys have shown there is no broad support for such measures.
Most want statues to remain
The Quinnipiac Poll reported that 39 percent of voters supported removing Confederate statues, compared to 50 percent who said they disagreed. Another 10 percent said of those surveyed said they either did not know or were not certain which option they preferred.
In a poll earlier this week by U.S. public radio and television networks and Marist University, 62 percent of respondents said the statues should not be removed. Another survey by the The Economist weekly and YouGov showed 48 percent of people said the statue of Civil War commander Robert E. Lee should be removed from the park where it stands in Charlottesville, compared to 30 percent who said it should be removed; the remaining 22 percent of respondents expressed no opinion.
Trump has popularized use of the term “fake news” to criticize news media and reporters that he contends treat him unfairly. According to the Quinnipiac poll, a majority of Americans agree with him: 55 percent of voters said they disapprove of the way in which news media report on Trump, compared to 40 percent who approve.
However, an even larger number of voters – 62 percent – said they disapprove of Trump's corrosive and angry comments about reporters and their employers. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they agree with Trump on such issues.
Voters also said they trust news media more than they trust Trump to tell the truth, by a margin of 54 percent to 36 percent. Ten percent of survey respondents said they did not know whether to trust Trump or the news media.
The Quinnipiac University Poll issued Wednesday was based on surveys of voters nationwide between August 17 and August 22.