The Economy Is Soaring, But President Trump's Approval Rating Remains Low

Mar 30, 2018
Originally published on March 30, 2018 10:19 pm
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Where President Trump goes, controversy seems to follow. But despite that, his standing with the public seemed to firm up in some recent polls, perhaps in part because of the booming economy. And that has raised one of the central questions of the midterm elections - whether the economy will help Republicans keep control. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Allen Cowan considers himself a socially liberal, fiscally conservative kind of guy, the kind of voter who reluctantly chose Donald Trump.

ALLEN COWAN: I held my nose at the voting booth.

KHALID: But these days, Cowan, a 50-year-old in West Virginia, says he is quite pleased with an aspect of the Trump era.

COWAN: Financially speaking, I cannot complain. My retirement I have through my employer has shown a remarkable increase.

KHALID: The thing is, Cowan says that strong economy doesn't change his overall opinion of the president.

COWAN: I can look at President Trump and be like, OK, his policies in regards to the economy and stuff are good for the nation. But I'm still going to think, President Trump, the whole kit and caboodle, is a bitter pill to swallow.

KHALID: And Cowan is not alone. Trump's approval ratings are, on average, not as high as you would expect given the country's low unemployment numbers, soaring stock market and expanding economy. But even though people might feel optimistic about the economy, GOP pollster David Winston says many people are still not feeling financially secure on a personal level.

DAVID WINSTON: People are still sort of assessing, is this just a sort of a temporary moment with the economy, or is this something longer-term that they can have some confidence in that will let them then economically behave differently?

KHALID: Still, if Republicans are going to pick one issue to focus on in the midterms, one issue they think could give them a boost, it's the economy and taxes. Winston says it's imperative for Republicans to sell the tax plan. And Trump was bragging about the economy yesterday at a rally in Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Unemployment claims are at their lowest level in 45 years - lowest level, 45 years.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

KHALID: He then told his supporters they need to show up in the midterms to keep this economy rolling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We can't lose that by getting hurt in the midterms, so we can't be complacent. There's never been an economy like this. Everyone says it's the most important thing.

KHALID: But the idea that good economic conditions have a direct effect on swinging seats in midterms is something Alan Abramowitz questions. He's a professor at Emory University. He's looked at the results of every midterm dating back to World War II.

ALAN ABRAMOWITZ: The approval rating is a much - itself is a much better predictor of what's going to happen in midterm elections than any measure of economic trends.

KHALID: Sure, the economy can factor into a president's approval numbers, but Abramowitz says when the economy and a president's approval rating are not in sync, the approval rating tends to be far more important.

ABRAMOWITZ: We saw something very similar back in the 1960s. And, you know, in 1966, we had a midterm election. Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. And, you know, the war in Vietnam was escalating, and his approval rating had dropped. But the economy was very strong.

KHALID: Long story short, Democrats lost 47 House seats that year. So an economy that's chugging along may not be enough for voters to credit the party in power, meaning Republicans need to figure out a way to tie the economy to how voters feel about the president before November so long as the economy stays in good shape. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.