Donald Trump begins his presidency on Friday facing opposition from a majority of Americans, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
The survey shows that just 44 percent of Americans approve of how Trump is handling the transition and preparations for the Oval Office, while 52 percent disapprove. Only 28 percent want the billionaire developer to take the lead on setting policy for the country, compared with 19 percent who want congressional Republicans to take the lead and 41 percent who say congressional Democrats.
Only 30 percent of Americans express confidence that Trump has the right goals and policies for the presidency. Only 32 percent say he has the right personal characteristics for the job he's about to assume.
All those numbers compare unfavorably to those received by President Barack Obama at the same point in 2009 as he prepared to take office. Then, 54 percent expressed confidence in Obama's goals, 59 percent expressed confidence in his personal characteristics and 71 percent approved of his handling of the transition.
The findings illustrate the challenges facing Trump as he seeks to build consensus for his presidential agenda.
One asset is a slightly brightening public mood following the contentious 2016 campaign. Some 37 percent now say the nation is heading in the right direction, up from 29 percent in mid-October. The proportion calling the nation off on the wrong track has fallen to 52 percent from 65 percent.
A second is that Americans share some of Trump's stated priorities. Fully 78 percent call keeping U.S. jobs from going overseas a top priority. Some 66 percent say the same of reducing the influence of lobbyists, 64 percent of funding new infrastructure projects and 59 percent of becoming more aggressive against ISIS. Imposing tariffs on other countries that exploit our trade deals with them, appointing a conservative Supreme Court justice and cutting taxes all draw at least 50 percent support as a top priority.
A third is that Americans like some of the characteristics Trump brings to the job. A 54 percent majority rates him highly for being "firm and decisive." Some 48 percent give him high marks for "being direct and straightforward," 46 percent for "dealing with the economy" and 45 percent for "changing business as usual in Washington."
But the survey shows Americans look askance at other aspects of Trump's persona and agenda.
Just 21 percent give the incoming president high marks for "having the right temperament," while 26 percent credit him for "having high personal and ethical standards." Just 27 percent rate him highly on likability and uniting the country.
Only 21 percent call his signature proposal — a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico — a top priority for 2017. Deporting illegal immigrants and cutting business taxes are rated a top priority by just 30 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
While Trump struggles to find his footing, Obama is enjoying a softer spotlight as he prepares to leave the White House. His 56 percent job approval rating is his highest since 2009.
A 53 percent majority calls the nation better off than it was eight years ago. By 54 percent to 30 percent, Americans credit the nation's first African-American president for bringing the nation "the right kind of change" rather than "the wrong kind."
For all the controversy that swirled around Obama's two terms, 55 percent of Americans say he will go down as either "better than most" presidents or "one of the very best." That matches the 56 percent showing on that question for President Bill Clinton in January 2001. Just 20 percent said the same of President George W. Bush as he prepared to leave office at the end of 2008.
The telephone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted Jan 12-15. It carries a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.