Word Association: I say Trump. . .?

June 22, 2017
Posted by Jay Livingston

A Quinnipiac poll done last month had an item that I hadn’t seen before. The poll had the usual Favorable/Unfavorable  questions about Trump, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, and others. (Trump’s 35% Favorable / 58% Unfavorable was best in show.) But Quinnipiac then, in Item #9, asked for more specific reactions.
9. What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump? (Numbers are not percentages. Figures show the number of times each response was given. This table reports only words that were mentioned at least five times.)
Here the results. I have sorted them into Favorable and Unfavorable. (Some respondents may have used “president” as a neutral term. After all, even those who think unfavorably of Trump acknowledge that he is in fact the president, and that he is a rich businessman. But I’m going to assume that these all carry positive valences.)

(Click on the chart for a clearer view.)

The sheer numbers – 343 negative to 184 positive – reflect Trump’s unpopularity, of course. But what about the variety? Is this peculiar to Trump? Does he offer so many things to dislike? Or do we just generally have a richer vocabulary of negative adjectives? Is it harder to come up with different ways that we like someone?


brandsinger said...

Interesting list of attributes -- but a blunt instrument, of course. First, such traits as aggressive and different aren't "negatives" -- so strike a few from your negative column. In Trump's case, even "unqualified" isn't unqualifiedly negative, since one rationale for the Trump presidency is his lack of conventional experience for a government post. His ignorance of Washington protocols and processes has been a stumbling block for him -- but also an unsurprising byproduct of his very appeal -- he's no politically savvy Bog Dole or Paul Ryan.

But second, the larger question, of course, is this: Can a voter think Trump is a total incompetent mental case and still prefer him over the party whose candidate denounced tens of millions of her fellow citizens as racist, homophobic, misogynistic deplorables? I'd guess poll numbers would be different if you framed a set of questions incorporating the possibility that many Americans see Trump's manifest shortcomings of second importance to his total disruption of insufferable political conventions -- a message which is doubtless more popular than the messenger.

Jay Livingston said...

“even ‘unqualified’ isn't unqualifiedly negative. . .” LOL. You’re using a gag line that is by now old, but it still can get a chuckle.

BOSS: Schmendrick, this HR review says you are unqualified for the job we hired you for.
SCHMENDRICK: You say “unqualified” like it’s a bad thing.

You’re right about “different.” Could be positive, could be neutral. Or . . .

HOST: What do you think of this anchovy-mango cheesecake I made?
GUEST: Well, it’s, um, er, . . . different.

And yes, you can “frame a set of questions” to get people to give the answers you you want them to give. You could ask, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump disrupts insufferable political conventions?” But anyone who does a survey using such framing is unqualified as a social scientist (though perhaps highly qualified in other fields you might be familiar with). By contrast, the question in this survey was totally unframed. It merely asked, “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump?” The top three responses were “idiot,” “incompetent,” and “liar.”

Face it. Most Americans do not have a very high opinion of Trump. His supporters may like him for the reasons you say (though those reasons do not appear in the adjectives). But those fans are in the minority. Currently, 55% of people say they “disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president”; 40% (on a good day) approve – the lowest approval rating ever for a president at this point in his term. Oh wait, maybe those “disapprovals” aren’t unqualifiedly disapproving. Maybe when people say they “disapprove” they mean disapprove but in a good way.

As for, “prefer him over the party whose candidate denounced tens of millions,” you do remember, don’t you, that three million more Americans voted for that candidate than voted for Trump. Of course, it would be interesting, had she won, to see what the first-word responses would be for her.

brandsinger said...

You make some good points. And thanks for the chuckle with your phrase "unqualified as a social scientist." Given the hilarious biases and scandals that plague social "science" research, I think we can agree that the pool of sentient mammals unqualified to be social scientists is rather tiny.