CAPS - Harris Poll on the State of the Union

January 19, 2018

The January 2018 poll by the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard (CAPS) and The Harris Poll looks at public opinion on the state of the country and the President’s policy proposals ahead of the upcoming State of the Union address.

Poll features topical deep dives on capitalism in America, marijuana legalization, tax reform, immigration, and the Special Counsel’s Russia probe.

The twelfth CAPS – Harris poll, released on Friday, January 19, looks at the state of key public issues ahead of the President’s State of the Union address.

The poll finds an upward shift in optimism among the public. While only 35% of American voters believe the country is on the right track, a majority - 51% - believe the American economy is on the right track, compared to 35% who believe it is on the wrong track and 14% who are unsure or don’t know; 68% of voters also say the economy today is strong to very strong.

Despite an uptick in optimism over the economy, the President’s approval has only marginally improved, continuing to hover on the lower end of the range at 42% job approval and 58% disapproval. However, in January the President received his highest rating for stimulating jobs and handling the economy, both at 54% approval. The President’s approval on fighting terrorism is at 50%, followed by low approvals on immigration (43%), foreign affairs (40%), and administering the government (39%).

Foreign policy presents a mixed picture for the President. While 60% disapprove of his handling of North Korea, 77% approve of the administration’s decision to withhold Pakistan’s aid until they do more to eliminate terrorist havens. Fifty-five percent of voters also support the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the administration’s plans to move the embassy there. On Iran policy, a mixed picture from voters: 62% do not want the U.S. to vocally support pro-democracy protest in Iran, but would rather withhold comment and wait and see what happens in the country. However, 79% do not believe the government of Iran has the support of its people and 86% view Iran as a theocracy run by clerics rather than a working democracy. The public continues to favor renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal, with 57% supporting the move.

Turning to domestic issues, the administration faces a losing fight over marijuana policy. Fifty-eight percent are in favor of legalizing the sale, possession, and use of limited amounts of marijuana, while 64% feel that individual states should be allowed to legalize marijuana usage, and only 36% believe it should be decided at national level by Congress and the administration. A majority of voters, 55%, say that federal laws should not be enforced in states that legalize recreational marijuana usage, repudiating the Department of Justice recent pushback on California’s legalization of the substance.

Americans remain committed capitalists, but the majority want government healthcare. Eighty-six percent of voters are not in favor of the U.S. becoming a socialist country, and 87% say they want a capitalist, free-enterprise economy. Eighty-four percent of the public believes they would do better in a capitalist, free enterprise system and 88% say it’s better to remain a capitalist, free enterprise country. But voters are split on whether the economy needs more or less regulation – 51% want less, 49% want more. And 55% want the government to pay for all healthcare, compared to only 44% who want it to pay for all college. In general, 75% of voters would rather live in a country where everyone strives for their own wealth; only 25% favor wealth distribution, and 72% believe a society is better off generating growth from individual competition and free enterprise.

While the country remains engaged in a series of public policy fights, the voters continue to vie for compromise and support a majority of the President’s policy proposals. Seventy-seven percent of voters want democrats to compromise with Trump, and 73% want Trump to cooperate with Congress and Democrats on issues of key priority. Overall, a majority of the President’s policies receive majority support from voters and have wide appeal with Democrats and Independents.

Lastly, turning to the Democrats: the top democratic choice for next president is Joe Biden, with 27% support among Democrat voters. He is followed by Bernie Sanders at 16%, and Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey at 13% each. Elizabeth Warren is at 10% support. Widely rumored as a possible candidate, Oprah Winfrey would bring to the Democrats widespread name recognition at 89%, third after Donald Trump’s 97% and Hillary Clinton’s 95%, as well as favorable views from a majority of voters, at 57%.

For more information on the December poll, go to the CAPS/Harris Poll website for detailed results, and please visit The Hill ( for first look analysis of all polls.

The CAPS/Harris Poll website will be updated throughout the week with more information about the poll.


The survey was conducted by The Harris Poll online within the United States between December 8 -11, 2017, among 1,962 registered voters.

The results reflect a nationally representative sample. Results were weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, marital status, household size, income, employment, and education where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

The poll was supervised by Harvard Professor of Government and CAPS Faculty Director Stephen Ansolabehere, Mark Penn, and Dritan Nesho. Stephen Ansolabehere has 25 years’ experience conducting survey research and experimental research in the field of political science. Mark Penn is a former presidential pollster and has 40 years of polling experience. Dritan Nesho is a fellow at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science and has over 11 years of polling and data analytics experience.

Harvard Law School Professor Jacob Gerson and Assistant Professor of Government, Jon Rogowski, contributed to this month’s CAPS-Harris Poll.

Harris Insights and Analytics conduct the poll based on online methodologies they have been using for more than a decade and the results are donated to the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University.

The results are represented as the results of the questions asked according to The Harris Poll methodology.