A new CNN poll finds that Americans are giving the U.S. economy unusually high marks — the highest in two decades, in fact. Three-quarters (76 percent) of respondents rate economic conditions in the United States today as very or somewhat good.
They could argue — as I and other econ-watchers have pointed out ad nauseam — that the president always gets too much credit when the economy is good and too much blame when the economy is bad. The president frankly doesn’t have that much control over big macro trends.
Of course, the fact that we have to keep repeating this truism ad nauseam suggests that it might not be the most politically compelling argument.
During Thursday’s debate, PBS NewsHour anchor and moderator Judy Woodruff asked the candidates about this challenge. Specifically: “What is your argument to the voter watching this debate tonight who may not like everything President Trump does, but they really like this economy and they don’t know why they should make a change?”
The candidates who responded mostly emphasized the unequal distribution of these recent economic gains.
“The middle class is getting killed. The middle class is getting crushed. And the working class has no way up as a consequence of that,” said former vice president Joe Biden.
“I’m proud to stand on a stage with Democrats who understand that a rise in GDP, rise in corporate profits is not being felt by millions of families across this country,” echoed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “I’m proud to stand on a stage with people who see that America’s middle class is being hollowed out and that working families and poor people are being left behind.”
Some recent data suggest that this could in fact be a successful message. Don’t believe me? Take a gander at a few charts.
For instance, Pew Research Center found that most Americans believe the current economy is helping the wealthy, but hurting the middle class, the poor, those without college degrees and other demographic groups.
That same Pew poll suggests even a large share of Republicans might be receptive to this Democratic analysis of the economy.
Among lower-income Republicans — defined here as those with household incomes below $40,000 — most (57 percent) say the economy overall is excellent or good. Even so, about half of them (49 percent) say the economy is hurting the middle class. And as you can see in the chart below, about the same share (47 percent) of this group also say they believe current economic conditions are hurting their own families.
It’s not just perception, either. As I noted in my column Friday, promised wage gains from the GOP tax cuts have not arrived. Inflation-adjusted wages are rising at about the same year-over-year pace as they were in the year or so before Trump took office (a little over 1 percent).
Democrats might also point out that — distributional consequences aside — even the headline economic growth numbers aren’t really that impressive. The economy is on track to grow about 2.2 percent this year, based on forecasts from the Federal Reserve, Wall Street analysts and others. For context, during President Barack Obama’s second term, the economy grew at an average pace of … 2.2 percent.
Which means Trump and his fellow Republicans spent nearly $2 trillion on unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations just to get us back to exactly where we were before the tax cuts.
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