People Are Literally Taking Donald Trump's Promises Literally

Trump seems to be doing what he said he'd do.
President Donald Trump attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Jan. 31. A new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds Americans increasingly expect him to literally carry out his campaign pledges.
President Donald Trump attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Jan. 31. A new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds Americans increasingly expect him to literally carry out his campaign pledges.
Pool via Getty Images

WASHINGTON ― During the campaign, some savvy Donald Trump supporters criticized the media for taking Trump literally but not seriously when he promised to build a giant wall and ban Muslims from traveling to the U.S.

Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel was the most prominent person to espouse the Figurative Trump Theory.

“I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously, but not literally,” Thiel said at the National Press Club in November, referring to Trump’s two aforementioned promises.

Now that Trump is president and has actually taken steps toward building the wall and restricting Muslim immigration, people are certainly taking him literally. A new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds 49 percent of Americans now say they believe that the president intends to carry out all the ideas he proposed during the 2016 campaign, up from the 33 percent who believed so in a November survey. Just 29 percent now say they think Trump “sometimes said things he didn’t really mean” during the campaign.

The vast majority also now say Trump was speaking literally, not metaphorically, in regard to some of his most extreme pledges, several of which he has already taken actions toward in his first weeks as president. Sixty-nine percent believe Trump meant literally his promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico and to make Mexico pay for it; 67 percent think he meant literally his pledge to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., and nearly three-quarters think he was being literal in his promise to temporarily ban refugees arriving from some Muslim-majority countries. (The survey was conducted largely before Trump’s executive order on the topic was announced Friday night.) A 60 percent majority also believe he was being literal when he previously questioned the birthplace of former President Barack Obama.

Steve Trivett is a Trump voter in Florida who was more on the metaphorical side. He wasn’t sure Trump would actually try to build a wall, though he did think the idea signified the right policy direction.

“I was hoping the country’s borders would be secured,” Trivett, a 70-year-old semiretired journalist, said in an interview. “A wall can be a physical barrier or a boundary line or even a philosophical separation between point A and point B.”

But now that the Mexican border wall has real prospects, Trivett is pleased. “I was a little unsure but I am glad that it is turned physical,” he said.

Congressional Republicans are reportedly drafting a supplemental appropriations bill to cover the $10 billion to $25 billion cost of the wall. Trump’s campaign promise to make Mexico pay for the wall may not be as literal as the structure itself.

Americans only doubt Trump’s literalism on one topic in the survey ― his stated willingness during the campaign to prosecute rival Hillary Clinton, which he has already walked back, to the disappointment of many of his supporters. “That plays great before the election ― now we don’t care, right?” he told supporters chanting “lock her up” in December.

Just 31 percent of the public think Trump literally intended to prosecute Clinton, while 36 percent say he was speaking metaphorically, and the rest that they’re unsure.

Voters who supported Trump in the election are, for the most part, especially prone to say that they take his words at face value. Seventy-eight percent believe he intends to carry out all the ideas he proposed, and more than 80 percent think he was being literal in his pledges to build a wall, keep out refugees and bring back manufacturing jobs.

Trump voters, however, are about equally unlikely as Clinton voters to think he was speaking literally about prosecuting Clinton ― 34 percent and 36 percent, respectively, say he meant it. And although 58 percent of Trump voters believe that his birtherism was meant literally, that’s lower than the 69 percent of Clinton voters who say the same.

The Huffington Post

Thiel, for his part, specifically said that Trump voters took Trump less literally than other voters did ― that they didn’t think he would really want to engage in the construction of a nearly 2,000-mile wall, even though Trump repeatedly said that he did. The data show that Republican voters are the most literal of all.

“What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy,” Thiel said. “We’re going to try to figure out how do we strike the right balance between costs and benefits.”

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Jan. 26-27 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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