WASHINGTON—Republican voters don’t think Donald Trump is likable. They don’t think he’s compassionate. And many don’t consider him particularly honest.
But he’s overwhelmingly viewed as decisive and competent. And that’s what matters most — at least for now — to Republicans.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that 8 in 10 Republican registered voters call Trump very or somewhat decisive. That’s top in the field for the businessman, whose blunt style was featured for years on reality TV. At the same time, it finds much resistance to him from the country at large.
The poll was taken before he called for a ban on Muslims coming into the United States and does not reflect the furor that has turned some leading Republican figures, at least, against him.
“I wouldn’t give him a 10 on the compassionate scale,” said poll respondent Lisa Barker, 55, of Worcester, Massachusetts, an unaffiliated voter who says she’s all in for Trump. “I’d probably put him in the middle. But I love the fact that he’s decisive.”
She’s not alone.
After rocketing to the front of the Republican pack in the 2016 race for president, he’s stayed there for months with a brash approach that has captivated a healthy slice of the GOP electorate.
People frustrated with the status quo appear to love his style — even when his policies draw condemnation and his facts are wrong. Trump drew widespread criticism from within his own party and from leaders around the world this week after calling for the ban on Muslim entry to the United States.
In the new national survey, three-quarters of Republicans said Trump would have a chance of winning the general election if nominated, significantly more than say so of any other GOP candidate.
“Donald Trump is saying what 95 percent of the people of this country, that belong to this country, that were born and raised in this country, feel and think,” said 83-year-old J.W. Stepp, a registered Republican who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
“Donald Trump is exactly what this country needs,” Stepp said. “He’s probably the most decisive person in the race.”
But the AP-GfK poll also offers cause for long-term concern for such Trump loyalists.
Beyond Republicans, 58 percent of all Americans have an unfavorable view of him. That’s the worst favorable rating of any candidate in either party, a reminder that decisiveness alone may not be enough to help Trump prevail in next fall’s general election if he represents the GOP on the ballot.
Yet he appears to be well-positioned in his party’s nomination contest, which begins with the Iowa caucuses in less than eight weeks. The early voting contests tend to feature the GOP’s most passionate voters, a small but vocal group that has been excited about Trump’s candidacy.
While Trump is considered the most decisive of the five GOP candidates tested, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz earned the next highest mark with 56 percent calling him very or somewhat decisive. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson had 53 percent, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 52 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 42 percent.
By contrast, just 31 percent of Republican voters say Trump is at least somewhat compassionate, and 43 percent say he is at least somewhat likable. Carson, who’s been slipping in recent polls, is viewed as most compassionate and likable, with 7 in 10 Republican voters saying each word describes him at least somewhat well.
Unfortunately for Carson, likeability isn’t among the most desired attributes among Republicans in this campaign.
Nine in 10 Republican voters say decisiveness and competence are extremely or very important in a candidate for president in 2016, according to the poll. Just 6 in 10 rate compassion as that important, while only half say it’s important for a candidate to be likable.
Nine in 10 Republican voters also say that honesty is an important quality in a presidential candidate, although they’re split on whether that’s a description that applies to Trump.
Fifty-five percent say “honest” describes him very or somewhat well and 43 percent say it describes him only slightly or not at all. Bush, Rubio and Cruz don’t do much better. Carson, by contrast, is viewed as at least somewhat honest by 66 percent of Republican voters.
Trump has repeatedly made false or dubious assertions, such as his debunked claim to have seen thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the 9/11 attacks. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the Republican electorate, which is deeply skeptical of the media.
Two-thirds of Republican voters believe media coverage is generally biased against Trump, more than say so of the other top candidates. Fifty-four percent say media coverage is biased against Carson, close to half say that about Bush and Cruz, and 40 percent say that about Rubio.