The Economy and Trump: What Do Voters Think?

February 21, 2020
The Economy

One of the biggest issues surrounding the 2020 Presidential Election is the economy. Incumbent Donald Trump will be––and already is––claiming credit for the strong performance of the American economy during his tenure. He will point towards the success of his deregulatory executive orders and his tax cuts legislation, arguing that giving him another four years in office will mean another four years of continued economic success for all Americans. His opponent will contest his assertions. They will argue that most Americans are not seeing the benefits of GDP growth, and they will question the relationship between Trump’s policies and the strength of the economy. Many voters may make their ultimate decision based on whose arguments they find most convincing.

Therefore, in two recent polls of registered voters in California and in Arizona, Redfield & Wilton Strategies took a comparative look at what voters are thinking about the economy and its relationship to President Donald Trump’s economic policies. Did they feel like things were better for themselves? If so, did they believe Trump should be credited for that?

In particular, we were interested to see whether voters in Arizona, a state that was won by Trump in 2016, differed from voters in Democrat stronghold California. Altogether, we asked five questions on the economy:

  1. Thinking back to where your position in life was three years ago, which of the following best describes your position now relative to back then?
  • I am better off now than I was three years ago.
  • I am worse off now than I was three years ago.
  • I am in about the same position now as I was three years ago.
  • I am not sure how my position now compares to my position three years ago.

2. Which of the following statements comes closest your opinion of what has happened in the US Economy in the last three years?

  • The overall economy has improved in the last three years, and most Americans have at least some improvement in their economic wellbeing.
  • The overall economy has improved in the last three years, but most Americans have seen no improvement in their economic wellbeing.
  • The overall economy has not improved in the last three years, and most Americans have seen their economic wellbeing decline.
  • Don’t know.

3. Thinking about the media coverage of the economy under President Donald Trump, which statement is closest to your opinion?

  • The media is mostly unfair to President Donald Trump on matters related to the US economy.
  • The media has not scrutinized President Donald Trump’s claims about economic success enough.
  • I do not care what the media says anymore.
  • Don’t know.

4. Which of the following best describes your opinion of the future of the US economy if President Donald Trump is re-elected?

  • Whether or not President Donald Trump is re-elected, the American economy is likely to grow in the next four years.
  • Whether or not President Donald Trump is re-elected, the American economy is likely to see a recession in the next four years.
  • If President Donald Trump is re-elected, the American economy is likely to grow in the next four years.
  • If President Donald Trump is re-elected, the American economy is likely to see a recession in the next four years.
  • Don’t know.

To those who said they believed the economy had improved in the last three years, we also asked:

5. What role do you think President Donald Trump’s policies have played in this improvement?

  • The economic gains of the last three years are largely related to President Donald Trump’s policies.
  • The economic gains of the last three years are largely unrelated to President Donald Trump’s policies.
  • Don’t know.

In both states, we found a consistent breakdown between those who had voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and those who had voted for Hillary Clinton. Three quarters of Trump voters believed the economy has improved in the last three years, of which 4 in 5 attributed that improvement to Trump. About half of past Clinton voters, meanwhile, acknowledged overall economic improvement in the economy, but though that most Americans had seen no improvement themselves in their economic well-being.

This partisan split can, in fact, be seen across all questions. About two-thirds of past Trump voters think the economy will likely continue to grow in the next three years if he is re-elected, whereas fewer than 10% of past Clinton voters think the same. Past Clinton voters were more likely to say the media has not scrutinized Trump’s economic claims enough, whereas past Trump voters were more likely to say that the media has been unfair to Trump.

It appears therefore that the perspectives of many voters on the performance of the American economy is tinted by their pre-existing partisan views. As such, it may prove difficult for the president to make a convincing case on re-election solely on the grounds of the performance of the economy. It will certainly be an issue that motivates those who have voted for him in the past, and that may be just enough to win. But it likely will be that he will have to connect with voters on other key issues, such as healthcare, the environment, and immigration.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.