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Majority Says Trump Not Making Progress in Changing D.C.

Byline: Jeffrey M. Jones

Synopsis: Four in 10 Americans say President Trump has made progress in changing Washington. In 2009, 53% said President Obama had done so.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- By 54% to 40%, Americans are more inclined to disagree than agree that President Donald Trump has made progress on his goal of changing the way Washington works. Americans were more positive in 2009 about Barack Obama's efforts to fulfill a similar promise that he made while campaigning for president.

Trump, the Washington outsider who upset the political establishment by winning the 2016 presidential election, promised during the campaign to "drain the swamp" in Washington. In his most recent weekly radio and internet address as president, Trump stated that he has brought "profound change" to Washington. A majority of Americans disagree with his assessment, according to the April 21-22 Gallup poll.

Obama also promised in his 2008 presidential campaign to institute ethics reforms that would make Washington more responsive and more effective. Roughly 100 days into his administration, 53% of Americans believed Obama had made progress in changing the way Washington works.

To a large degree, the more positive opinions about Obama than Trump reflect differences in popularity. At the 100-day mark, Obama's job approval ratings were in the 60% range, while Trump's are near 40%.

Views of Trump More Politically Polarized Than Those of Obama

Opinions about the success of Trump's efforts to change Washington are driven mostly by political partisanship. More than three-quarters of Republicans, 78%, say Trump has made progress, while nearly the same percentage of Democrats (79%) say he has not made progress. Independents, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, believe Trump has not made progress.

When Gallup asked the same question in 2009 about Obama, opinions were not as starkly partisan. At that time, 69% of Obama's fellow Democrats thought he was making progress in changing Washington, while 36% of Republicans agreed. Independents were divided evenly about Obama's progress.


Obama took some steps early in his administration to address ethical issues in Washington, limiting the hiring of lobbyists in his administration and releasing records of visitors to the White House.

His ultimate record on ethics reform was mixed, in part because former lobbyists working in the administration and officials who pursued lobbying careers after serving in the administration were able to comply with the letter, if not the spirit, of the laws. For example, people need only register as lobbyists if 20% or more of their time is spent on lobbying activities. And though Obama decried the influence of big money in elections, he was unable to enact meaningful campaign finance legislation that reduced campaign contribution limits.

Trump has undone some of Obama's ethics rules but has instituted a five-year ban on former government officials lobbying their former colleagues. Trump is facing similar challenges to those Obama encountered in attempting to change Washington's culture, including congressional inaction on key lobbying laws.

In attempting to reduce the influence of the Washington establishment, Trump has appointed many Washington outsiders to key positions. Some of his Cabinet secretaries and key advisers are from the business world or private sector with no prior experience in Washington. At the same time, there have been ongoing concerns about conflicts of interest for some officials, like former Exxon Mobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who will help shape U.S. policy that will affect the company's bottom line.

The Trump administration recently sought to broaden the scope of what "draining the swamp" means beyond special interest activity, citing the now-lifted government hiring freeze, regulatory reform and a directive to examine waste in federal agencies as evidence of its accomplishments in this area.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.
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Title Annotation:Washington D.C.
Author:Jones, Jeffrey M.
Publication:Gallup Poll News Service
Article Type:Survey
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 2, 2017
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