“They’re very discouraged,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean at the school and president of CELI. He said there was a noticeable shift by CEOs from enthusiasm on topics such as regulatory and tax reform to more disappointment on issues such as trade, the treatment of allies and the overall divisive tone of the administration. “That divisiveness of pitting people against each other all the time has really worn the business community down.”
According to the survey results provided, roughly three-quarters of business leaders disagreed with a statement that Trump was effectively leading U.S. national security. Eighty-seven percent of attendees agreed that Trump’s negotiating style had cost the country the trust of allies, and 75 percent said they often had to apologize to international partners for “embarrassing diplomatic messages” when traveling abroad for business.
The survey included answers from more than 110 CEOs, nonprofit and government leaders — with the largest group of respondents leading Fortune 1000 firms — and therefore is not a random sample of business leaders' insights. But it offers a snapshot of what these leaders think about the president’s actions, as well as topics such as the economy, Brexit and regulation of technology companies. (An email sent to a White House spokeswoman was not immediately returned.)
For instance, 86 percent of attendees said they worried about increasing instability in European markets, while U.S. political instability and trade disputes were seen as the biggest threats to strong U.S. financial markets. Nearly half of the attendees thought the United States will be in a recession by the end of 2019. Fifty-two percent said they believed outside election interference manipulated the Brexit win last year, while 85 percent said British Prime Minister Theresa May and Britain should have had a fresh referendum on the decision to leave the European Union.
Meanwhile, 54 percent said they believed the United States needs more regulation of tech companies over freedom of speech issues, while 90 percent called for more regulation of tech companies over privacy abuses.
Sonnenfeld said that figure was startling — to see CEOs calling for more regulation of their peers.
“There’s a line drawn in the sand between Facebook, Twitter and the rest of tech, let alone the rest of the business community,” he said. “It’s really remarkable; I don’t think we’ve ever seen that in a prior year.”
Trump has had a mixed relationship with business leaders throughout his first term — bringing executives into his Cabinet and slashing regulations and corporate tax rates while at the same time berating CEOs on Twitter and inspiring a stunning disbanding of his business advisory councils following his remarks about protests involving white-supremacist groups in Charlottesville.
This year’s results are similar to opinions offered by CEOs at the December 2017 summit, when more than four-fifths of CEOs said they were embarrassed by Trump’s representation of U.S. interests and image on the world stage and three-quarters worried the country had alienated allies. At Yale’s mid-2017 summit, 50 percent of the CEOs in attendance gave Trump an “F” for his first 130 days in office and more than 60 percent strongly agreed his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord diminished the global standing of the United States.
Trump has received better marks from CEOs for his policies. A survey released in May of Fortune 500 CEOs by Fortune Magazine, for instance, found 49 percent said his policies have been better than they had expected. In the most recent CEO Economic Outlook Index by the Business Roundtable, meanwhile, the index remained historically high, reflecting an outlook for a strong economy. But it was the third consecutive quarter the index declined, which reinforced “the importance of removing barriers to trade, including tariffs,” the report said.