Few modern politicians have so effectively channeled America's ire at the corruption endemic to Washington, DC, as Donald Trump. In bygone eras, it might have seemed odd that a real estate mogul known for doing business with shady figures would run a campaign based partly on reforming a broken system—but in 2016, that wasn't even the tenth strangest aspect of a surreal campaign. Trump's promises to "drain the swamp" apparently registered with voters in a big way, and it looks like Americans still want him to follow through.
That's one takeaway from a survey released Wednesday by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a bipartisan group of scholars and analysts. Researchers talked to 5,000 voters who were previously interviewed in 2011, 2012, and December 2016 as a way of tracking how opinions changed over time. Since December, the survey found, a small but potentially significant number of Trump voters have grown unhappy with the president—especially those who voted for the Republican after previously casting ballots for Barack Obama. But just as striking was the finding about which of Trump's promises the voters surveyed approved of the most. Respondents were asked whether they supported or opposed Trump on a variety of promises, and also whether those promises were important. Here's what they said:
"Immigration ban" refers to Trump's executive order, still being fought over in court, that restricted travel from several Muslim-majority countries on the grounds that citizens of those nations are terrorist risks. "Tax reform" is something that sounds good, even if it's unclear what the term means. It's not exactly surprising that those positions are popular with an electorate that fears terrorism and hates taxes. But the idea of weeding out corruption is head-and-shoulders more popular than anything else Trump has talked about—it's the only issue a majority of voters surveyed feel strongly positive about in the context of his larger agenda.
Of course, Trump's early tenure haven't shown him to be a chief executive who cares very much—or at all—about corruption. Immediately upon taking office, he weakened Obama-era ethics rules over lobbyists serving in the administration. He then appointed former lobbyists onto "deregulation teams," meaning that in some cases the people in charge of considering regulatory changes were representatives of the industries affected by those same rules. That's part of a larger wave of veteran lobbyists serving in the Trump administration.
Trump's White House won't reveal who visits or when. The president's business ties, and the lack of separation between his family and the administration, has created a web of conflicts of interest. In July, the government's top ethics official resigned in frustration. Carl Icahn, the famed Wall Street shark and a Trump acquaintance, became an informal adviser and pushed for the elimination of an obscure regulation that affected his business interests. (His efforts largely failed and he no longer has that position.) Former Congressman Tom Price was confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary despite a history of trading stocks in medical companies affected by legislation his committee was actively working on. Lobbyists and CEOs pay Trump's golf courses handsomely for memberships that could get them in the vicinity of the president and his top aides.
Is it any wonder that a national poll from May found that most voters didn't think Trump was draining the swamp, with 32 percent saying he was actually making DC corruption worse?
Trump isn't the first to fall short of reforming the nation's capital. Obama himself denounced the "revolving door" between lobbyists and government posts as a candidate, but didn't end up putting a stop to it. What's different about Trump is how obvious and odious the conflicts of interest appear to be, and the massive gulf between what Trump promised to do and what he's actually doing just six months into his presidency.
Corruption could become more important as the 2018 midterms approach, with Democrats already targeting congressional Republicans who have ethics problems of their own. It's not a stretch to imagine the opposition connecting petty transgressions—like California Representative Duncan Hunter allegedly using campaign funds to buy his rabbit a plane ticket—to the more serious question of whether Trump and his associates are cashing in on the presidency. If the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group's findings are any guide, they may be onto something.
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