Strong Economy Could Bolster Trump Heading Into 2020
If the economy remains strong, then Democrats could find it harder to beat the President than they thought.
While the President continues to be beleaguered by the Mueller Report and other issues, The Hill notes that for the moment at least his political fortunes are being bolstered by a strong economy that seems, at least for the moment, to be on course for continued economic growth:
A raft of surprisingly strong recent economic data is likely to bolster President Trump’s case as he heads into the 2020 election.
The U.S. labor market blew past expectations by adding 263,000 jobs in April, with the unemployment rate falling to the lowest level in 50 years, and gross domestic product growth accelerated at a 3.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter.
Financial markets have rebounded to record highs after a bloody end to 2018, while wage growth is slowly increasing after years of near stagnation.
Economists had widely expected the U.S. economy to slow this year, with some raising the specter of a potential recession. But those fears have fallen by the wayside, and the strong top-line numbers give Democrats few openings to attack Trump on the state of the economy.
“Markets were wrong about the risks of a recession at the turn of the year. The economy still has significant momentum,” wrote Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, in a Friday research note.
That’s left Democrats looking to unseat Trump instead focusing on the president’s push to roll back regulations, which they argue has left workers with fewer protections, and on wide swaths of the country still struggling to get by.
“Regardless of the economic numbers, most people feel like they’re working harder but not getting ahead,” wrote Zac McCrary, partner at progressive polling firm ALG Research, in a Friday email.
“People don’t vote based on macro-economic metrics – they vote based on what’s happening in their own lives.”
The economy will take center stage in 2020. Trump and congressional Republicans have claimed credit for boosting the economy through massive tax cuts and sweeping deregulation.
When Trump took office in January 2017, he inherited a solid but slowly growing economy from former President Obama. The unemployment rate was 4.7 percent, but GDP grew only 1.6 percent in 2016, the slowest level of economic growth since 2011.
The economy has kicked into another gear since Trump’s election, with unemployment sinking to 3.6 percent in April and GDP growth coming close to 3 percent in 2018.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have toured the country to tout the strong economy, frequently in midwestern states that voted for Obama in 2012 but delivered the White House to Republicans in 2016.
“We can all agree that AMERICA is now #1,” Trump said in a Friday tweet, accompanied by a picture of the Drudge Report homepage touting the April hiring boom. “We are the ENVY of the WORLD — and the best is yet to come!
Democrats, though, argue Obama should get credit for the burst of prosperity. They say the U.S. is finally reaping the full benefits of his efforts to rebuild the economy. Economic analysts say the stimulatory effects of GOP tax cuts and the sharp increase in government spending are likely short-lived.
Even so, Republicans believe the recent spurt of economic growth stands to benefit Trump as he seeks re-election. Polls find Trump broadly unpopular, but they also show the public giving him high marks for his handling of the economy.
Roughly 53 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s presidency, according to a FiveThirtyEight average of approval polls updated on Friday. But 56 percent of respondents to a CNN poll said they approved of Trump’s economic record, a new high for his presidency.
“‘It’s the economy stupid’ is still mostly operative,” Stuart Roy, a GOP strategist and former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), wrote in an email, citing the unofficial slogan of former President Clinton’s first White House campaign in 1992.
The relatively strong state of the economy can be seen most recently in the Gross Domestic Product numbers released at the end of April and the jobs report released last Friday. Both numbers were higher than expectations that analysts had prior to their release, and both seemed to put to rest the fears that many had of an economic slump later in 2019 or heading into 2020. While such an outcome is certainly possible, and the current economic expansion that began in the summer of 2009 must and will come to an end at some point, there don’t appear to be any storm clouds on the horizon indicating an immediate economic downturn that would have a negative impact on the President’political fortunes.
The extent to which the economy is likely helping the President can be seen in his own poll numbers. While Trump’s job approval number continue to be historically low, they remain within the same range that we’ve seen going back to the beginning of his Administration. Part of the reason for this, of course, is due to the overwhelming support he gets from Republicans as opposed to Democrats and Independents. However, it must also be acknowledged that his job approval numbers on the economy alone are much better than his overall numbers. In the RealClearPolitics average, for example, the President’s overall job approval stands at 44% approve and 53% disapprove for a deficit of nine points. On the specific issue of the economy, though, his numbers are nearly the exact opposite, with an average 54% approving of his handling of the economy and 41% disapproving.
As I’ve noted before, exit polling after most recent Presidential elections has shown that the single most important factor that voters cited as the reason for the way they voted is the state of the economy in general and of the voter’s personal financial condition. While broad economic statistics are not always a perfect measure of how people feel about their personal financial situation, they are generally speaking a good indication of such and it’s typically the case that when there’s good news on the economy generally workers and consumers feel better about their own economic condition.
All of this has a predictable impact on politics, especially at the Presidential level. In times of economic growth, it is hard for an incumbent or a candidate from the incumbent’s party to be defeated. We saw this is the elections of 1984, 1988, 1996, 2004, and 2012. By contrast, incumbents are more likely to lose if the state of the economy was poor, as we saw in 1976, 1980, and 1992. If the current growing economy continues into 2020, it could end up making the difference between a second Trump term and a Democrat taking the Presidency and it could prove difficult for Democrats to nitpick otherwise strong economic statistics in an effort to “talk down” the economy.. If it doesn’t then Trump is likely to have a difficult time selling the public on re-election.