Aaron Blake: Who thinks Trump is 'honest and trustworthy?' Fox News fans and few others.
Summary: President Donald Trump has now made more than 18,000 false or misleading claims during his three-plus years as president, and his coronavirus commentary has followed suit. In a tweetstorm this weekend, for instance, Trump lodged at least eight easily disproved claims.
As the United States confronts a pandemic with little precedent, we are being guided by a president with a very well-documented problem with basic facts. President Donald Trump has now made more than 18,000 false or misleading claims during his three-plus years as president, and his coronavirus commentary has followed suit. In a tweetstorm this weekend, for instance, Trump lodged at least eight easily disproved claims.
Because of this, one of his worst polling numbers has long been honesty and trustworthiness, and a new poll is one of his worst to date on that measure. Just 31% in the new USA Today/Suffolk University poll said Trump is honest and trustworthy, while 64% disagreed. That's higher than a 2-to-1 ratio against the president's character.
But that still leaves 3 in 10 Americans who believe the president is honest and trustworthy, despite all the fact-checking and patently false claims.
So who are those 3 in 10 Americans? According to the same poll, they are Fox News fans and few others.
Suffolk regularly asks people what their most trusted news source is, which provides a helpful window into the differences between Fox and non-Fox viewers. It's perhaps one of the most significant demographic splits in American politics right now, and the "honest and trustworthy" question bears out why.
According to the Suffolk poll, of the 31% of Americans who believe Trump is honest and trustworthy, nearly two-thirds of them say Fox is their favorite news source. Among Fox-first viewers — who comprise about 25% of Americans in the survey — 78% say Trump is honest and trustworthy, while just 15% disagree.
The imbalance is even more striking when you look at people who don't trust Fox the most. Among the three-fourths of the population who don't list Fox as their No. 1, just 15% say Trump is honest and trustworthy, while nearly 80% say he is not.
Non-Fox-first viewers rate Trump consistently higher among other personality traits. Among them:
29% say he's a strong leader
23% say he "cares about people like me"
37% say he knows how to get things done
40% say he stands up for U.S. interests
30% say he can work with foreign leaders
So it's not like these people are overwhelmingly dead set against Trump. Many of them see positives in his character, but few of them believe honestly is among them.
The question from there is how much this is cause and how much is effect. Fox certainly covers Trump in a much different way than most outlets, with its prime time opinion hosts often fawning over his alleged achievements and downplaying or outright ignoring his falsehoods. Even on the more straight-news side, the coverage is consistently less critical of Trump and declines to dwell so much on when he gets things blatantly wrong.
That doesn't mean reporters and hosts haven't been critical. But whatever the right balance might be, it's indisputable that the news Fox viewers are consuming about Trump bears little resemblance to the news that others are.
But are the 25% of people who list Fox as their favorite regularly tuning in to Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham or even daytime programming? Undoubtedly not. While Fox ranks as the most-watched cable news outlet, even its high ratings don't indicate that a quarter of Americans are watching regularly. It's plausible that many people who don't watch Fox much or at all but like Trump will logically associate him with the cable network and, when prompted, volunteer Fox as their most trusted news source.
So maybe this is as much or more about people who already like Trump as it is about these people consuming less-critical coverage and not recognizing or caring about Trump's myriad falsehoods.
But either way, the correlation between Fox News viewership and the few Americans who continue to say the president is honest and trustworthy is remarkable — especially when compared to other traits.
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.