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Poll finds tempered optimism after Trump victory, but doubts about mandate

Americans emerged from President-elect Donald Trump's surprise victory in last week's election with passionate and polarized reactions, overall expressing tempered optimism about his presidency but unconvinced that he has a mandate to enact a sweeping new policy agenda, according to a Washington Post-Schar School national poll.

The poll finds Americans still reeling from Trump's long battle against Hillary Clinton, with more than 7 in 10 saying the campaign made them angry and more than half feeling stressed out by campaign news. Trump's supporters are largely ebullient when asked how they feel about the result, while Clinton backers range from disappointed to fearful to apoplectic.

Nationally, just 3 in 10 Americans - 29 percent - say he has a mandate to carry out the agenda he presented during the campaign, while 59 percent say he should compromise with Democrats when they strongly disagree with the specifics of his policy proposals.

That 29 percent figure is sharply lower than the 50 percent who said the same for President Barack Obama after his first election in 2008 and the 41 percent for former president George W. Bush after the 2000 election and the contentious recount that followed.

Beneath those findings are sharp partisan divisions in how supporters of Trump and Clinton now see the road ahead. What that means in terms of overall support for major policy changes such as repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act or reversing many of Obama's executive orders is less clear.

Not withstanding views of Trump's mandate, over 6 in 10 Americans expect to see major changes in Washington during his presidency. Almost as many say they are somewhat or very confident that the economy will improve on his watch, while 52 percent say they think living standards will increase.

On other matters, Americans are more worried. Slender majorities say they are not confident he will show respect for people with whom he disagrees or make wise decisions about war and peace.

The Post-Schar School poll was conducted Friday through Monday among 1,002 adults and included over 400 Clinton and 400 Trump voters.

More than half of all Americans say they have been dissatisfied with the way things have been going in the country and almost half, 47 percent, say they want to see large-scale changes in Washington. A 54 percent majority also say they are optimistic about the coming year.

The survey finds Trump's supporters want the president-elect to take decisive action to address the nation's problems. Nearly 9 in 10 say they are dissatisfied with the country in recent years, and about 8 in 10 say "large-scale changes" are necessary to correct the nation's course. A 56 percent majority of Trump voters say he should carry out his agenda rather than compromise with Democrats, and 63 percent say they share his views on most issues.

These findings are set against the fact that Obama's overall approval rating stands at 56 percent - a level he has maintained consistently for months - and the 28 percent who strongly disapprove is the lowest level in more than five years.

Also, neither Trump nor the two parties in Congress are trusted on the issues. The poll finds fewer than 3 in 10 saying they agree with Trump, Democrats or Republicans in Congress on most issues. Majorities say they agree with each group on at least "some" issues.

Trump said during the campaign that he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton's use of a private email account as secretary of state. The issue is one where Trump's supporters and the broader public are sharply at odds. The poll finds that, overall, 57 percent of Americans say he should not do so, while 69 percent of Trump's supporters say he should.

Americans are not widely concerned about overreach at this point, with 30 percent expecting Trump to go too far while 48 percent think he will handle things about right. But the overall numbers read as a warning sign to Justin Gest, a professor of George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government, which collaborated on the survey.

"The polling numbers are telling him he should be acting more carefully," he said, "That is statistically significantly lower than when Bush won despite losing the popular vote in 2000."

The acrimonious 2016 campaign appears to have taken a substantial toll on voters, particularly Clinton supporters looking back on her unsuccessful campaign. Overall, 55 percent of all Americans say they felt stressed during the campaign, with women far likelier than men to express that feeling - 64 percent compared with 45 percent.

When asked to describe their reaction to Trump's victory in a few words, "disappointed" tops the list, followed by a slew of other downbeat emotions. Clinton voters also offered words such as "shocked," "scared," "sad," "disgusted," "devastated" and "terrible" to describe their reactions. While the tone of the 2016 election has been unprecedented in many ways, Clinton supporters' top-of-mind reactions this year are strikingly similar to laments of Mitt Romney's supporters in a Pew Research Center poll four years ago.

One indication of the divisions that remain after the campaign came on the question of whether the country is now "basically okay" or whether the campaign did "real damage." The results showed the country split almost evenly with 45 percent choosing each option. Eight in 10 Trump voters say the country is okay, while over three-quarters of Clinton backers detect real damage.