KEY POINTS

  • 74% of Americans say they have seen no improvement in their financial prospects since President Trump took office; 29% say they are worse off
  • 24% of Republicans and 13% of Democrats say their financial position has improved
  • Experts say whether voters blame Trump for the coronavirus recession is an open question but only 35% said they think the president has done a good job handling the economy

 

In 1980, then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan famously asked, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” In 1992, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s camp stuck to one simple campaign strategy: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

If economics is a determining factor in presidential election success, the coronavirus recession has upended calculations on President Trump’s prospects come November.

Recent economic reports showed the economy entered recession in February. Since then, unemployment has risen into double-digits from a record-low 3.5%. The Federal Reserve has predicted it will take at least two years to recover – a comeback that is more likely to look W-shaped instead of the V-shaped return that Trump's economic team has sought.

A Bankrate.com survey released Monday indicates 74% of Americans say their financial situation hasn’t improved since Trump took office in 2017 and 62% don’t expect the situation to change – an attitude prevalent before the pandemic hit. Just 17% of the 1,300 people surveyed in early June said the Trump era has been good to their pocketbooks while 29% said they are worse off.

Before the coronavirus began taking hold in the U.S., Trump ballyhooed the economy’s economic prowess, equating the record rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average with a good economy.

“One of the biggest problems with President Trump is that he consistently trumpets stock market gains and infers that they are a proxy for the economy,” Robert Johnson, professor of finance at Heider College of Business at Creighton University, said in response to a query from International Business Times. “The reason may be that the market gives an assessment of stock valuation daily while economic conditions are much more nuanced and difficult to gauge.”

So, who is doing better? Nearly a quarter of those making more than $80,000 a year said their finances have improved in the last three years, the Bankrate.com survey indicated. Among those earning less than $30,000, only 15% said they saw improvement. Twenty-one percent of men and 13% of women said they’re in a better financial position, with 79% of women and 68% of men saying they’ve seen no improvement.

Among Republicans, 24% said they are better off compared to 13% of Democrats. By age group, an overwhelming majority of baby boomers (81%), members of the Silent Generation (82%) and Generation Z (60%) said their situations have remained stagnant.

“Beneath the banner headlines involving the trajectory of the national economy, there are numerous diverging paths — including those faring better and those faring not as well, or worse,” Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said in a press release. “Many of those left behind voted for candidate Donald Trump hoping that he would be their salvation.”

Some 26% of those queried said the coronavirus recession had affected their finances adversely and more than half (57%) said they don’t foresee any improvement before Election Day.

Johnson called Trump’s path to reelection “perilous.”

“The president cannot afford a sputtering economy around the time of the election. The president has already taken a tremendous risk in encouraging the reopening of the economy,” Johnson said.

Political consultant Matt Klink noted past statistics show incumbents seeking reelection in a good economy succeeded in retaining office 12 times, with no losses. With the economy in recession, incumbents were booted out five times versus one retention.

“Voters won't hold President Trump responsible for the dismal state of the economy; however, they will judge both Trump and [presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe] Biden on the economic plans to rebuild the economy and create jobs,” Klink told IBT.

Biden last week released his plan for attacking the economic crisis, which he said was made worse by what he called Trump’s “failed response” to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden said the administration has no real strategy but, rather, is taking a “just-see-what-happens” approach that does nothing to keep the spread of COVID-19 in check or create good-paying jobs.

Trump has indicated he’s in favor of another round of stimulus spending, but Senate Republicans want to slow the process to assess the impact of the more than $3 trillion in stimulus that already has been injected into the economy.

Biden, by contrast, issued an eight-point plan that includes guarantees of paid sick leave for everyone who needs it, help for small businesses and adequate child care programs.

Asked about Trump’s handling of the economy, 42% of those queried by Bankrate.com said he’s doing a poor job while 35% grade his performance as good or very good.

Mises Institute senior editor and economist Ryan McMaken said he doesn’t think the economy will be as major a factor in Trump’s reelection prospects as it was in previous elections.

“The so-called culture war, and related issues such as riots, lockdowns, and related issues look to be very big for voters later this year. Moreover whether or not voters blame the president for the state of the economy remains an open question. Many may elect to blame state governors who locked down their economies for the enormous increases in unemployment we now see,” McMaken told IBT.

“Trump could win by showing the economy is improving even if we can't show everything is fine again. If things are improving, he could use something like Reagan's successful, ‘It's morning in America again’ message," McMaken said.