These days, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who doesn’t have strong opinions about American politics. Say what you will about President Donald Trump, but the polarizing nature of his policies and rhetoric have created a body of citizens who are more interested and involved in politics than they have been in decades. But becoming vocal often correlates with people becoming polarized — and as the Pew Research Center showed, even back in 2014, before Trump was considered a viable presidential prospect, it was clear the United States was more politically polarized than it has been in more than two decades.
As someone who has always had my own strong opinions about politics, I’ve become increasingly frustrated in my lack of understanding of where the other side is coming from. It’s gotten to the point where I worry we as a country can’t relate or listen to each other at all, and in an atmosphere like that, nothing will ever get done in this country.
According to the latest data from Gallup, 86 percent of Republicans approve of President Trump’s job performance, while only 35 percent of independents and 10 percent of Democrats approve. Clearly there are huge gaps in people's perspectives. But there has to be some way to meet in the middle. In an attempt to do so, I interviewed some of my fellow students at the University of Florida who identified as conservative or “right-leaning” to get their most honed-in opinions on the president and his administration so far.
1. Julia Sutton, 21
Sutton says she supported John Kasich and Marco Rubio in the Republican primaries before finally jumping on the Trump Train. “It’s time to let him do what he needs to do.” Sutton tells me. However, she understands that people are nervous about Trump and wants to support her friends who have these worries. “When people say they’re scared, I get it. And I want to be there for them.” At the same time, Sutton doesn’t want to be generalized and judged because of her support of Trump. “I don’t hate anyone. I don’t want harm on anyone,” she says.
2. Zach Stephan, 21
“I voted for Trump, but I regret that decision. I think a lot of people do,” Stephan tells me, citing Trump’s recklessness with his Twitter account as one of the main reasons he regrets his vote. “He’s making the United States seem like a joke nation. There’s so much negative media attention paid towards him, and it’s not about the substance of the issues, it’s just about how he does things so unintelligently.” Although Stephan says he has criticisms of the Affordable Care Act, he doesn’t agree with the replacement plan that’s been laid out by Congress, saying “Once people are already insured, you shouldn’t just strip insurance from people.” As someone who considers education to be one of the most important issues to vote on, Stephan was also disappointed with Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education that he called his representative to try to discourage him from voting to confirm her. “My mom is a teacher, and she’s taught at charter schools where they just waste money,” he says. “People should probably think a little bit harder when they vote next time. But, I mean, I think we’re all hopeful that he’ll do [well] as president.”
3. Angel Gonzalez, 20
Though Gonzalez says he feels “positive so far” about the Trump administration, his opinions don’t follow typical Republican party lines. Gonzalez says he supported Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries, and, ultimately, decided to support Trump when Sanders was defeated. “I wanted an outsider,” Gonzalez sys. He considers the executive order on travel restrictions in the Middle East to be the most negative action that has come from the Trump Administration so far, calling it “simple oversight that caused a large amount of people to suffer damages from it." Gonzalez also supports Trump’s plan to build a wall on the border of Mexico in an attempt to prevent illegal immigration. "The media takes Trump literally, but his supporters know what he meant." Ultimately, Gonzalez feels that “2020 is his to lose,” so Trump should take the opportunity to make all the changes he can in the next four years. “I think that’s what ‘Make America Great Again’ was all about, that idea of American exceptionalism in the world, because we kind of dropped the ball on that.”
4. Kylee Sipowski, 21
Sipowski, who describes herself to me as a “constitutional conservative, leaning libertarian,” feels “pretty down the middle” about the Trump administration so far. Although she believes that many of his policy decisions have already had a positive impact, Sipowski’s main criticism of the administration is the messaging and communication. “I think the Twitter stuff needs to cool down,” Sipowski says. “I think how you handle communications is really important, and I think Sean Spicer has done a lot less good than bad.” After voting for Ted Cruz in the Republican primary, and even at one point declaring herself a “Never Trump” person, Sipowski says she eventually decided to get on board when she realized that Trump’s campaign was less about party and more about “supporting people who felt like they were left behind.” Sipowski is hopeful about Trump’s ability to fulfill this goal. “It feels like we’re at a turning point where [small businesses] will actually have a lot of that pressure lifted off them and hopefully be able to find success,” she says. While Sipowski is generally supportive of Trump’s agenda, she adds “I try not to be a cheerleader."
5. Michael Russel, 21
Russel says he is a Republican who couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump in the general election. However, he has mixed feelings on the administration so far. “I think it definitely has gotten off to a rocky start, but I think that’s really any new administration,” Russel tells me, adding he's been pretty pleased with his economic plans. "It’s a pro-growth business model, which I think obviously stems from his experience as a businessman.” Like many interviewed for this piece, Russel is most critical of Trump’s communication techniques. “I feel for Sean Spicer, I really do. I think Trump puts him in a hard situation and he’s doing the best he can.” Russell says he is willing to give Trump a chance, but won’t hold back from voicing concerns. “I will defend him when I think he’s being unfairly challenged, and I will certainly call him out when I believe he is either not following through on some of his promises, or not taking a conservative approach,” he says.
6. Kacey Finch, 19
Finch tells me she is “hopeful for the first time in the past eight years.” Finch’s father sells medical equipment, and his business took a hit due to the passing of the Affordable Care Act. Finch says her father is “not going to be able to retire” because of Obamacare, so she’s looking forward to any kind of replacement plan for healthcare. Her main criticism of the Trump administration is his messaging. “I think his PR people really have to work with him on his Twitter presence,” she says, though she believes he deserves a shot and less criticism than he has received. “Nobody is really giving him a chance yet.” Religion was also an important factor in Finch’s support of Trump. “I’m a Christian, so I like how he’s kind of brought Christianity back into the U.S," Finch says. “He’s bringing more God into America, which I think we really need right now.”
7. Regan Lee, 19
Lee says she feels torn on the Trump administration so far. She has struggled with the divisiveness that has come with his administration and is not as happy with his stance on social issues. “We’re on such a diverse campus and you see how it affects other people and you’re kind of in a difficult position,” she tells me. “It’s hard because you want to stick up for your friends, and it’s a really hard place to be in." Lee said she felt most conflicted about supporting Trump when the Access Hollywood tape from 2005 with the infamous "grab them by the pussy" line was released. Lee says she asked herself, “How can I vote for someone like that?” However, she tells me she eded up deciding that it was more important to vote based on policy. “At this point I’m actually pretty hopeful of what he’s going to accomplish. I could see things going really well.”
8. Corey Noble, 21
Noble says he considers himself a “Reaganite” and traditional conservative. He believes that, so far, the Trump administration is “rhetoric filled,” and he’s hesitant to support many of his protectionist policies. “Economically, I think his trade policies are very dangerous,” Noble says. He also believes Trump has been too loose with his words and tweets, saying “I think that he has been a little less careful about preserving the dignity of the office.” However, Noble also appreciates that Trump doesn’t want “business as usual,” and thinks it’s time to “try something else.” While Noble says he has decided to give President Trump a chance, he admits, “I am in a position to be able to give him a chance, you know, I’m not one of the people [who] are afraid of being marginalized by his administration.”
9. Layni Challender, 19
Challender says she is slightly disappointed that “so far he’s been moving a little slow,” but believes “everything takes time, especially things that hopefully will turn out good in the end.” Challender says she has supported his executive orders regarding immigration and travel from seven — now six in the revised order — Muslim-majority countries. “I think that’s the most positive thing he’s done so far," she says of it. "It’s really shown that he’s going to go against what everyone wants [in order] to do what he thinks is best for us.” Challender says she likes that Trump spoke to a population of Americans with which she identifies. “I feel like a lot of the South really went for him because it’s like the down-home, what you define as a true-hearted American. I really from the bottom of my heart pray that he gets us where we need to be.”
10. Noah Levin, 21
Levin tells me he is “not quite as pleased [with Trump's presidency] as I was with [Trump’s] campaign.” Levin is critical of who Trump is surrounding himself with, saying “I don’t think Mike Pence stands up for the rights of every American." Even though Levin did back Trump as a candidate, he was “very hesitant to support him at first, mainly because he has zero track record.” However, Levin also thinks that Trump’s nonconforming views allow him the potential to heal the divide between parties. “I think he and Bernie Sanders have more in common than they think,” Levin says — and bridging the party gap is an issue that’s important to Levin. “I really hope he can reach across the aisle. I think he’s more of a centrist than most people believe,” he says. “I hope he can carry out what he said. I really hope he can drain the swamp.”
10. Christian Sutton, 19
Sutton says he thinks Trump has “been doing a rather decent job." For him,“it’s still amazing that he made it in. I guess we’re still kind of in the honeymoon stage.” He is also hopeful that Trump will be able to work with Democrats and help bridge the divide between parties. “Based on his history, he has worked with both sides in the past,” Sutton says, and he adds that he is looking forward and feels good about the potential for change. “I think it’s going to be an exciting four years, if nothing else, just to see a new president.”
11. April Garcia, 19
Garcia describes herself as a “Right-leaning libertarian” and says she is pleased with the Trump administration. “He’s already kept quite a few of his promises which is really exciting,” she says. Garcia says she was originally not a fan of Trump. “A year ago at this time, I was definitely not a Trump supporter,” she says. However, she says she changed her mind in September when she was impressed with Trump's humility at a campaign event honoring Medal of Honor recipients. "Since that day I realized that he turns on and off his boastful attitude and it's basically his way of being blunt but truthful about how he feels." Now, she’s behind most of his goals, particularly from an economic standpoint. “I’m really concerned about the deficit and debt we are in in this country,” Garcia says. “I think it’s stupid, just plain stupid that we just keep spending more than we’re taking in.” Garcia is also excited about Trump and his efforts to reduce the size of the federal government. “I want more freedoms for people. People need to be able to make their own choices.”
12. Matthew Agosti, 19
Agosti tells me he thinks “it’s been great that Trump is trying to bring back the American job force.” He says he has been pleasantly surprised by Trump, noting “My opinions have gone up as popular opinions have gone down." However, Agosti doesn’t agree with everything, particularly Trump’s use of his Twitter account. “I think he really just needs to slow down with the tweets and not influence the market so much.” Agosti also says he doesn’t agree with Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as vice president because “He is very radical. I am conservative, but I also have some liberal viewpoints.” Still, Agosti says he pleased with Trump’s job performance so far. “I really just recognize that he is actually working to create better policies in the U.S., and he is actually very devoted towards that.”
13. Jacob Faubion, 20
Faubion feels that even though Trump has a “big mouth,” his background as a businessman, rather than as a career-politician, has been a positive change for the country. “He didn’t try to hide anything from the people,” Faubion says. He also says that Trump has the potential to reach across the aisle and heal the divide between parties. Faubion believes that “once Bernie Sanders came out of the race, a lot of his supporters transitioned into Trump supporters.” Faubion says he was concerned with some aspect of the first executive order travel ban, saying that it “could have been implemented better." However, he adds "at the same time, it’s not something you would really want to announce or plan in public, just because of how that could affect international relations.”
Images: Sophie Smadbeck (13)