The Clinton voters, not to mention the lone Stein supporter, were unhappy with President Trump's performance in office. Asked for a brief description of him, they offered answers such as "unfit," "crazy," and "contemptible." The Trump voters weren't particularly happy either, although they used words such as "disappointment" to describe the man they supported.
What was remarkable about everyone's reservations about Trump was the degree to which they focused on the president's tone, on his style, on the things he said, rather than his policy.
Staunch Democrats in the room opposed the substance of Trump's agenda, just as they would have opposed that of any other Republican president. Yet, most of their complaints were about Trump's style. The more independent-minded, as well as the Trump voters, likely support much of what the president is doing in terms of policy. But they still felt the need to express disapproval of his tone.
At the same time, several voters expressed satisfaction with their own lives and their own economic situation. "The construction business has just gone off the charts," said David, a 50-something Trump voter who made his living in the industry. Such comments mirror larger measures of economic satisfaction, such as new reports that consumer confidence has risen to its highest level since December 2000.
That is the Trump phenomenon. He is a president stuck below 40 percent job approval at a time of rising economic growth, swelling consumer optimism, and a roaring stock market. Despite all the good news, even some of his supporters, the ones who cheer on his actions on deregulation, judicial nominations, border security and more, have reservations about him. Tony, a Trump voter in his 50s who described himself as a Republican-leaning independent, summed up their feelings in an almost poignant way. "What most disappoints me is he's such an incredibly flawed individual who's articulated many of the values I hold near and dear," Tony told Hart. "The messenger has overwhelmed the message."
The style-versus-substance president
In late September, the Republican strategy firm OnMessage tried to learn more about the Trump style-substance phenomenon in research in eight suburban House districts around the country. These were districts that did not vote for Trump in 2016, but had a significant Republican presence in the electorate.
Trump's job approval rating overall here was 45 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove. Breaking that down, Trump's approve/disapprove was 6-92 among Democrats, 40-59 among independents, and 79-19 among Republicans.
Then, OnMessage turned the question to the president's agenda: "Thinking again about President Trump, please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: There are certain things I don't like about President Trump, but I like most of what he is trying to do and I hope he succeeds."
The numbers moved. Among Democrats, 13 percent said they agreed, versus 86 percent who disagreed. That's a very low level of agreement, but remember, just six percent of Democrats said they approved of the job Trump is doing as president.
Among independents, 47 percent said they like most of what Trump is doing, versus 51 percent who disagreed. Again, remember that 40 percent of independents said they approved of Trump's job performance, so the 47 percent who approve of his agenda is a significant difference.
Among Republicans, the numbers were basically unchanged; Republicans who approve of Trump's job performance also approve of his agenda.
Looking at the counties' electorates overall, the people who support Trump's agenda and those who don't split right down the middle: 49 percent support, 49 percent don't support. That is significantly different from his 45-53 approve/disapprove rating.
The short version: More people support Trump's agenda than support Trump.
For independents in particular, more respondents approve of Trump's agenda than approve of his job performance. They're sympathetic to what Trump is trying to do — they actually support what he is trying to do — but they are uncomfortable with how he is going about it.
"Trumpism would be more popular without Trump," said GOP strategist Curt Anderson, a founder of OnMessage.
One could also say that Trumpism would never have made it to the White House without Trump. But now that he is there, Anderson's point is something that Republicans are studying closely.
Other pollsters have reached similar results. "We tested this way back in February," GOP pollster Neil Newhouse said. "Even then, we showed the highest percent ever on the poll saying they dislike Trump but like most of his policies. I doubt that has changed much since then."
Another Republican pollster, David Winston, noted that Trump won the White House with a personal disapproval rating of 60 percent. That suggests voters last November, in addition to really disliking Trump's opponent, chose Trump to accomplish certain goals, even if they weren't fully comfortable with him personally.
"Many voters who supported him last fall were troubled by some of the things he was saying, but were willing to take a risk because they believed the existing group of candidates would not get the needed things done," Winston said. "They voted for outcomes." If Trump achieves those outcomes — most importantly, more jobs at better wages — concerns about his style could become secondary.
Indeed, for Trump's conservative-leaning supporters in the Republican Party, and for many independents too, a number of outcomes are already making them happy. They're pleased with Trump's government-wide deregulation policy, his tough border security and enforcement policy, his strong Cabinet choices, his slate of stellar judicial appointments, his success against ISIS, a lot of things.
I recently ran into a conservative activist who works with wealthy Republican donors. Many of the their businesses' most frequent contacts with federal regulation come through the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Labor Relations Board, he explained, and businesspeople are ecstatic about Trump's lifting of what all believe were burdensome Obama-era regulations. Maybe they didn't support Trump during the campaign, but from a business standpoint at least, they love him today.
There are also positive signs from the vastly larger group of people who work for wages and look for economic improvement in their lives. In October, Quinnipiac asked, "Would you describe your financial situation these days as excellent, good, not so good, or poor?" While only 12 percent answered excellent, a whopping 61 percent said good. Just 20 percent said not so good, and 6 percent said poor.
Still, despite all that, there are Trump's low approval numbers, his tone, and a style that rankle so much that it can overshadow his accomplishments.
The president's use of Twitter ranks extraordinarily high in voters' concerns about him. Even during the campaign it was not unusual to hear Trump supporters, the people who came to his rallies and cheered him on, say they would like to see him dial back on the tweets. Trump acknowledged their concerns but decided to keep tweeting. It is, he has said, his way to reach millions of Americans without having to go through any media filter.
But he is paying a price. "The thing that drives me crazy is all the tweeting he does," said Russell, a 60-something Trump voter in the Peter Hart focus group. "I don't pay any attention to it, but it's in the news, it's on the newscast every day, evening and night, my wife watches it — it drives me crazy because the television is on all the time. And it's, why doesn't he just quit that tweeting?"
Russell likes Trump's pledge to make America great again. He's particularly concerned about keeping jobs in the U.S. When asked to reveal his level of concern about allegations that Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, he said "zero." But he's still unhappy with Trump.
Karl Rove, the former Bush strategist who plays a key role in promoting Republican candidates around the country, has been hearing the same thing in his travels. "I've noticed the last couple of months an increasing amount of people saying, 'I voted for him, I think he's trying to do the right thing, but oh God, I wish he would stop tweeting,'" Rove told me recently. "The president is wearing those people out."
When the Wall Street Journal recently asked poll respondents their opinion of "the way the president uses Twitter to communicate with the American people," 66 percent said they disapprove, versus 23 percent who said they approve, and 10 percent who had no opinion. Two-thirds is a pretty big number.
Is it still 2016?
Now, one year after his election, what does it all mean politically for Republicans for the congressional midterm elections in 2018 and for the president himself?
Republicans have more to worry about than the president's style. Talk to the strategists trying to keep control of the House and Senate next year, and many will tell you that if Congress passes a tax cut, the GOP will do fine in 2018. If it doesn't pass a tax cut, it will be in deep trouble. After the party's catastrophic failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, if lawmakers fail to pass a tax bill, they will go into 2018 without a big legislative accomplishment to point to, and having broken their top two promises from the last election, that is, to repeal Obamacare and cut taxes. The GOP's future is in its own hands.
Trump's situation is more complicated. Is his standing something like 2016, when many people disapproved of him yet voted for him anyway? Or has he worn out the goodwill of those independent voters who like much of what he does but are turned off by his tone?
Unlike during the campaign, Trump today has a record as president for voters to evaluate. If the economy were to stumble, he would certainly pay a political price. But what if current trends continue for a while, and the economy stays strong or keeps getting better?
Should that happen, there's no doubt Trump's adversaries, in Congress and in the press, will focus even more relentlessly on his tone, on the hair-on-fire controversy of the day, in an effort to make voters overlook their general level of satisfaction and oppose Trump, even as their lives improve.
But things might go the other way. Even if Trump remains his most Trumpy self, an extended period of economic good news could mean voters separate their personal distaste from their evaluation of him as a president. "In another year or two, lots of reasonable people are going to start saying, 'You know, I don't quite like some of the style but he's really effective,' " former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said recently.
What will happen? One guess is as good as another. Like so much else with Trump, there's no precedent, no template to tell us how things are going to go.