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Americans don’t expect much from their next president, no matter who it is

Voters expect little from the next president, a new poll shows.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

A deeply divided electorate has at least one thing in common: Few expect big things from the next president.

Fewer than one-third of registered voters think Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would make a good or great president, while more are likely to see either as being “terrible” in the Oval Office, a new Pew Research Center poll finds.

Expectations are only slightly better for Clinton than Trump. Thirty-one percent said she would be a good or great president, 22% say average, 12% poor and 33% say terrible. Forty-three percent of voters think Trump is likely to be a terrible president, accounting for the biggest discrepancy between the two candidates; only 27% say he would be a great or good president.

Those figures were little changed since a March survey, and reflect a relative ambivalence even among the nominees’ supporters. Fewer than one in four Clinton or Trump supporters expect their candidate to be a great president while more decisively predicting the worst about the opposing candidate: 72% of Trump supporters say Clinton would be terrible, while 83% of Clinton backers said that of Trump.

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Other findings from the Pew survey otherwise largely align with other recent polling that showed a Clinton advantage buoyed by strong support among the increasingly diverse electorate, a significant gender gap and Clinton’s stronger showing among college-educated white voters than other recent Democratic nominees have enjoyed.

Offered a choice among four candidates, including the Libertarian and Green Party nominees, 41% of registered voters said they would vote for Clinton while 37% backed Trump. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, earned 10% while Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, got 4%.

Clinton’s four-point lead among registered voters is just beyond the survey’s 2.8-percentage-point margin of error, and represents a tighter race than in mid-June when Clinton led Trump by nine points.

But beyond views of the candidates, the poll demonstrates vastly different views of the state of the nation and its most pressing challenges.

Clinton supporters, for instance, were far more likely (59%) to say that life was better for people like them now than 50 years ago than Trump supporters (just 11%).

While two-thirds of Trump supporters said immigration was a very big problem for the country, just 17% of Clinton voters said the same. Another wide disparity existed in views of whether the gap between rich and poor represented a very big problem: 70% of Clinton supporters said it was, compared with just 31% of Trump supporters. The only issue where views aligned was on relations between racial and ethnic groups. Forty-seven percent of all voters said it was a “very big” problem, a jump from 29% who said that in 2007 when the question was last asked, and ranked it ahead of terrorism, immigration and the environment.

The survey as a whole painted a pessimistic view of the future beyond the candidates. Half of all voters said the future for the next generation of Americans would be worse than the present, while just one in four voters said better and about one in five said it would be the same. Even Clinton voters had only a narrowly optimistic view of this question (38% better vs. 30% worse).

Pew’s data found a dramatic turnaround in the view of free trade agreements among Republican voters. Fifty-five percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters said in 2014 that free trade agreements have been good for the U.S.; 51% said the same in the month before Trump launched his candidacy in 2015 and made attacks on existing free-trade deals a cornerstone of his campaign. But now just 32% say that, while 61% now say the trade deals have been bad for the U.S.

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Democrats, meanwhile have remained largely supportive of free trade agreements. Fifty-eight percent called them good for the U.S. while just 34% said they weren’t.

Voters were split on the question of whether the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership would be good for the U.S., with one in four voters undecided. Securing approval for the trade pact among a dozen Pacific Rim nations including the U.S. is a major priority for President Obama in his final months in office, and he has vowed to press ahead despite opposition from both Clinton and Trump.

Obama enjoys a healthy 53% job approval rating, the highest rating Pew has found during his entire second term.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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