The president is pretty confident that he has a trump card on questions about his 2020 reelection viability: the economy.
Ask him a question about, well, nearly anything, and he’ll claim that he’s in a strong position because Americans love how the economy is doing. Speaking with reporters on Monday, Trump cited the economy as a defense against a failed vote on impeachment held in the House last week and against concerns about how black Americans might respond to his racist attacks on a group of House Democrats. Polls looking grim? Well, if the media were honest, the economy would have Trump’s approval north of 70 percent.
There’s just one catch. There are a number of signs that the economy isn’t going to be the silver bullet Trump assumes. It wasn’t in 2018, for example. In other polling, there has been a disconnect between how people feel about Trump and how they feel about the economy.
A poll released on Monday served as another example of that gap. According to the poll, conducted by Marist College on behalf of NPR and PBS NewsHour, more than half of Americans say they will definitely vote against Trump in 2020. That has been consistent in Marist polling; more than half of respondents have said the same thing in each of the five polls it has conducted this year. (By contrast, President Barack Obama never had half the country opposing his reelection before the 2012 contest.)
At the same time, more than half the country says that they approve of how Trump’s doing on the economy. Nearly two-thirds say they are personally doing well. Yet opposition to Trump’s reelection is still 14 points higher than those who say they will definitely vote for him next year.
Note the three boxes. Overall, among independents and among college-educated white men, more than half of both approve of Trump’s handling of the economy and say they won’t vote for him.
That’s not what a silver bullet looks like.
The Marist poll also includes another interesting battery of questions, evaluating how people view various policy proposals that have moved to the center of the 2020 conversation. We’ve truncated the descriptions below, but the top lines are interesting: Issues such as expanding access to Medicare, giving immigrants who are in the country illegally a pathway to citizenship, and even the Green New Deal’s proposals to invest in infrastructure and green jobs get majority support.
(Note the distinction between Medicare-for-all who want it or Medicare-for-all, framed in the questioning as eliminating private insurance.)
Those views are driven by strong support from Democrats, understandably. It’s also the case that not all of the proposals that have been introduced as part of the 2020 conversation poll terribly well (such as decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings), but even things like covering the cost of college are well-received.
The biggest gaps between the parties are on issues that have been heavily laced with partisanship. The Green New Deal and Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord are much more popular with Democrats than Republicans, as befits an issue that has become one of the most polarized in the country.
Then, of course, there’s Obamacare. Interestingly, 78 percent of Republicans support repealing Obamacare — but nearly half also support expanding Medicare to anyone who wants it. A central part of Obamacare was expanding Medicaid availability in states.
But let’s go back to those 2020 numbers for Trump. The Marist poll separated out two groups that will be important to track as the election approaches, those who backed Trump in 2016 and white men without college degrees. Interestingly, those white working-class men are often much closer to independents in their views of these issues than they are to Trump voters.
Two exceptions to that rule deal with guns. White working-class men are closer to Trump voters on background-check expansions and on banning semiautomatic rifles. But they are much closer to independents on regulating drug prices, legalizing marijuana and a national shift to Medicare-for-all. On average, white men without college degrees are about eight points away from independents on these issues and nearly 18 points away from Republicans.
One reason? White working-class men aren’t all Republicans. Many — a third in the Marist poll — say they definitely won’t vote for him. Not a majority, but in 2016 election exit polls, less than a quarter of white men without degrees backed Hillary Clinton.
There are two takeaways here. The first is that many marquee Democratic policies — though not all — are not only not seen as disqualifying but are embraced by independents and white working-class men.
The other is that Trump’s repeated insistence that the economy will be the deciding factor on his behalf may reflect more wishful thinking than a real understanding of how Americans actually feel.