Trump is winning on the economy but it may not matter

Instead, Trump’s more than holding his own on the economy. Right now, it’s a strength for him. Such an edge may not matter, however, come this fall’s election.

The latest CNN/SSRS national poll puts Trump’s approval rating on the economy at 50%. That’s just a point below Trump’s average since the 2018 midterm elections. It also matches what other polls are finding. Trump scored a 50% approval rating on the economy in an April Marist College poll and a 52% in AP-NORC survey.
Moreover, the President seems to still be winning on the economy vs. former Vice President Joe Biden. In the CNN poll, Trump held a 12-point advantage when voters were asked who they trusted most to handle the economy. That’s up from a 4-point margin for Trump last month.

At first glance, it may be stunning that Trump’s doing so well on the economy. By almost any objective measure, the economy is doing poorly right now.

Trump’s steadiness makes a lot more sense, though, if Americans aren’t blaming Trump for the economic downturn. The coronavirus outbreak is a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that is affecting a lot of different countries. Most world leaders are experiencing bounces in their approval ratings.
Americans are likely giving Trump a lot of slack given the pandemic with concern to the economy. Polling shows, for instance, they prefer stay-at-home orders remain in place to ensure safety than opening back up the economy. Of course, Trump, perhaps believing that Americans’ patience will run out, is now pushing back on those stay at home orders.

Importantly, Americans believe that the economy will be in a better position next year. A majority, 57%, said in the CNN poll that current economic problems were a “temporary obstacle to economic growth and the economy will soon recover.”

All of these data points are good signs for Trump. The bad economy doesn’t seem, right now, to be hurting him electorally too much, and it may never lead to the type of blowback that past economic downturns have for the incumbent party.

The bad news for Trump is that if you look at almost every single poll, Trump is losing to Biden overall. Even as he is winning on the economy, he is behind.
The problem for the President is that there’s a lot more going on than the economy. Trump’s overall approval rating has consistently trailed his economic approval rating. Changes in Trump’s approval rating has been disconnected from shifts in the economy.

Right now, voter choice is far more correlated with feelings on coronavirus than on the economy. In fact, it’s more highly correlated to vote choice than almost any variable I’ve ever seen.

Trump’s losing to Biden on handling coronavirus by a 6-point margin in CNN polling, which is nearly identical to Biden’s 5-point lead overall. Among those who say they are voting for Biden, Biden holds a 90-point advantage on who can best handle the coronavirus outbreak. Trump has a 90-point edge on handling the outbreak among those who say they’re voting for Trump.

For comparison, Trump’s only winning by 69 points overall among those who trust him over Biden on the economy.

These statistics fit with what we’ve seen historically. As I wrote about previously, there have been a number of elections where there was a non-economic issue on voters’ minds. Incumbents have won those elections when they’re more trusted than their opponent on this issue. They’ve either been forced to abandon their reelection bids or have lost when their opponents are thought to be better equipped on these important non-economic issues. This includes times when the economy was doing well.

The economy may not sink Trump, but it’s unlikely to save him either, even if voters trust him on it. Trump will likely only win if Americans believe he’ll do better on the coronavirus than Biden.

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3 thoughts on “Trump is winning on the economy but it may not matter

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