WASHINGTON - The solid economy is doing little to bolster support for President Donald Trump.
Americans give Trump mixed reviews for his economic stewardship despite the growth achieved during this presidency, according to a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Nearly two-thirds describe as “good” an economy that appears to have set a record for the longest expansion in U.S. history, with decade-long growth that began under Barack Obama. More people consider the economy to be good today than did at the start of the year.
But significantly fewer approve of Trump's handling of the economy, even as it remains a relative strength compared with other issues. The survey indicates that most Americans do not believe they're personally benefiting from his trade policies. And only 17% said they received a tax cut, despite government and private sector figures showing that a clear majority of taxpayers owed less after the president's tax overhaul passed in 2017.
These doubts create a possible vulnerability as Trump highlights the economy's solid performance in his campaign for re-election in 2020. During two nights of debates last week, almost every Democratic presidential candidate found ways to criticize the president by decrying the wealth gap.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said it was evidence of “corruption.” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders railed against the concentration of wealth in the three richest Americans, while former Vice President Joe Biden said Trump thinks Wall Street, not the middle class, built America.
Christel Bastida, 39, a neuroscience researcher, was active in Democratic politics last year during the Senate race in Texas and plans to run for Houston City Council.
“I personally don't feel more secure financially and I think that's the case for a lot of people who are middle class,” she said. “A lot of working-class people are not comfortable now. I know there were tax breaks that were supposed to be helpful to people, but it turns out they're helpful to billionaires and corporations and I'm neither.”
Nearly half of Americans, 47%, approve of Trump's handling of the economy, but his overall approval rating - 38% - is low compared with what past presidents have enjoyed in strong economic conditions. Only about 4 in 10 Americans approve of his handling of taxes and trade negotiations.
The public skepticism has persisted even as the president routinely congratulates himself on the economy, including the 3.6% unemployment rate and stock market gains.
He tweeted last week: “The Stock Market went up massively from the day after I won the Election, all the way up to the day that I took office, because of the enthusiasm for the fact that I was going to be President. That big Stock Market increase must be credited to me.”
The 2017 tax overhaul was sold by the administration as a way to return more income to everyday Americans. But the poll shows nearly half say they think their taxes stayed the same or are unsure; 33% said they increased. This suggests the tax cuts may have been too modest to notice or were eaten up by daily expenses, or that people were disappointed with their refunds.
That feeling of being left behind has energized Democrats seeking to turn out the vote next year. The tax overhaul disproportionately favored corporations and the wealthy, allowing Democrats to say the tax cuts were fundamentally unfair.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say the amount they paid in taxes increased in the last year, 42% versus 25%, while more Republicans say their taxes decreased, 25% versus 10%.
Nor are tariffs popular.
Trump has imposed a tax on roughly $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, part of an effort to force the world's second-largest economy to trade on more favorable terms with the United States. China retaliated with their own tariffs that hit the U.S. agricultural sector, causing the Trump administration to provide aid to farmers with lost profits.
The president has also threatened tariffs on Mexico in order to get that country to reduce the border-crossings into the United States and has mused about hitting European autos with import taxes as well.
A mere 15% of Americans said the tariffs will help them and their family.
With regards to the national economy, just 26% said the tariffs will help, a sharp decline from 40% who said that last August. About half said the tariffs will be harmful.
Republicans, in particular, are less optimistic: Half think Trump's tariffs will help the economy, down from 7 in 10 in August.
Ryan Brueggemann, 37, of New Berlin, Wisconsin, runs a dairy farm with his brother. He supports Trump but dislikes the tariffs, though he understands why the president has deployed them so frequently.
“I don't believe it's a great business practice to use them,” Brueggemann said. “But it came down to the point where our country is being taken advantage of unfairly and that the only way other nations were going to listen to what we wanted to renegotiate and even get them to the table to think about it was to get their attention by putting some tariffs on products.”
Paul Miller, 81, a retired shoe factory foreman from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said he still intends to vote for Trump, since he hasn't seen anyone better yet in the Democratic field.
Living off his pension and Social Security, Miller said the tax cuts were basically irrelevant for him. And he doesn't agree with the president's claim that China is paying for the tariffs, rather than U.S. consumers and companies.
“I sort of have mixed feelings about the tariffs,” he said. “Of course, I don't believe it when Trump says we won't have to pay them. We will.”
The AP-NORC poll of 1,116 adults was conducted June 13-17 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and were interviewed later online or by phone.