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Americans’ Views Of The Economy Are Partisan, But They’re Not Immune To Bad News

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

“How is the economy doing?” is a question that we have several hard, objective metrics with which to answer. But increasingly, how Americans think the economy is doing seems to depend on their party. But just because views of the economy are polarized, that doesn’t mean they’re stagnant — and that could prove pivotal for President Trump in 2020.

Quinnipiac University’s latest national poll of registered voters, conducted Aug. 21-26, found a huge gap between how Republicans and Democrats perceive the state of the economy: 43 percent of Republicans described it as “excellent,” and another 45 percent described it as “good”; among Democrats, however, just 2 percent described the state of the economy as “excellent” and 37 percent said it was “good.” A plurality of Democrats, 43 percent, thought it was “not so good,” while 17 percent called it “poor.”

In total, 88 percent of Republicans used a positive adjective for the state of the economy, while only 39 percent of Democrats did the same. That 49-point gap in how the two parties perceived the strength of the economy was the second-largest that Quinnipiac has measured in the last three years.1 (The largest gap came this January, amid the government shutdown.)

Granted, it’s not unusual for voters’ politics to color their perceptions of the economy. During the Obama administration, Democrats were generally more optimistic about the economy than Republicans were; that flipped a few months into Trump’s tenure. Since then, Republicans have consistently viewed the economy more positively than Democrats have, but as the chart above shows, the gap between parties has really widened over time.

Most of this is due to Republicans warming to the economy, going from having a slight majority with positive views at the beginning of the Trump administration to near-universal approval today. Under the surface, Republicans haven’t just gotten more likely to feel positively about the economy, they’ve also been reporting more strongly positive feelings. As late as April 2018, only 18 percent of Republicans said the state of the economy was “excellent” and 65 percent said it was “good.” In May 2019, 50 percent rated it “excellent” and 42 percent rated it “good.” That said, a bit of that enthusiasm did wear off in the latest poll, when the “excellent” number dropped by a few points. This could be the result of heightened anxiety that a recession might be around the corner.

But while Republicans’ views on the economy have largely been on a steady march upward, Democrats’ views appear to be more sensitive to events. In February 2018, after Trump’s first State of the Union address and a strong month in the stock market, 62 percent of Democrats had a positive view of the economy, but at moments like the January 2019 government shutdown or this most recent poll, positive views of the economy among Democrats have dipped to as low as 39 percent. But electorally, Republicans’ and Democrats’ views on the economy may not matter all that much; their 2020 votes are largely already set in stone.

So what’s perhaps more troubling for Trump is that independents’ opinions on the economy look a lot like Democrats’ — they often react to current events in a similar way, though their recent baseline is about 20 points higher. While it’s plausible that partisan polarization is so strong these days that even a recession would not change many voters’ minds about Trump, the fact that independents appear persuadable on the economy is a point in favor of the theory that a recession would indeed damage his reelection chances.

Indeed, it might be a coincidence that Trump’s overall approval rating has ticked down in recent weeks amid speculation about a looming recession, but it also comes at a time when only 57 percent of independents have kind things to say about the state of the economy — the lowest number Quinnipiac has found since the summer of 2017.

Other polling bites

  • As long as we’re on the topic of partisan gaps, there is also one on whether the U.S. should spend more money for scientific research. According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Democrats and people who lean Democratic would increase federal spending on scientific research, but only 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents agreed. That said, that’s still more support among both parties than Pew previously found in almost two decades of polling.
  • Marquette University Law School — one of the best pollsters in a crucial swing state — released its latest poll of Wisconsin this week, and residents gave Trump a 45 percent approval rating and a 53 percent disapproval rating. Interestingly, 37 percent of Wisconsinites said they thought the economy has gotten better over the last year, and 25 percent said they thought it had gotten worse — but when asked how they thought the economy would change in the next year, the results were reversed. Just 26 percent thought things would get better, and 37 percent thought they would get worse.
  • Tune in next week for a full preview of the upcoming do-over election in the North Carolina 9th Congressional District, but don’t overlook the special election in the North Carolina 3rd District that’s happening at the same time. That race has gotten less attention, but this week the Republican blog RRH Elections released a poll of that race that gave GOP state Rep. Greg Murphy a 51-40 lead over Democrat Allen Thomas in this bright-red district. (According to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric,2 it’s 24 points more Republican-leaning than the nation as a whole.)
  • Just in time for CNN’s climate town halls with the Democratic presidential candidates, the Sierra Club and Morning Consult released a poll of “climate voters” — those who say that the candidates’ climate plans are “very important” to their vote. And the results looked a lot like polls of the Democratic field overall, with former Vice President Joe Biden at 30 percent, Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 21 percent and Sen. Bernie Sanders at 20 percent.
  • Turmoil on the Thames! Opponents of a no-deal Brexit successfully took control of the parliamentary agenda away from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and advanced a bill to prevent the United Kingdom from exiting the European Union without an agreement in place. In response, Johnson wants to call a new parliamentary election, and British voters tilt slightly in his favor. A YouGov poll says 41 percent of Britons want their member of Parliament to vote to hold a new election in mid-October, and 31 percent want their MP to vote against such a measure.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.5 points). At this time last week, 41.3 percent approved and 54.2 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -12.9 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.2 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.8 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.5 percentage points (46.3 percent to 39.8 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.7 points (46.4 percent to 39.7 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.1 points (46.1 percent to 40.0 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Footnotes

  1. The first time Quinnipiac asked this question during the Trump presidency was in February 2017.

  2. The average difference between how a district votes and how the country votes overall, with 2016 presidential election results weighted at 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results weighted at 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature weighted at 25 percent. Note that FiveThirtyEight’s current partisan leans were calculated before the 2018 elections and so do not incorporate the midterm results.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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