It was an interesting academic exercise: Which indicator would prevail? The answer, easily, was the prediction based on the weak president. President Trump’s Republican Party lost scores of seats, just as you’d expect from a president as unpopular as he was.
For months, the standing assumption has been that the still-strong economy would be a boon to Trump. Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt made that case here at The Washington Post over the weekend, arguing that Trump was a lock for a second term simply because the economy was so good.
Polling released on Monday, though, suggests that this isn’t necessarily the case — just as it wasn’t in 2018.
The Post and our polling partners at ABC News released data showing that most Americans see the economic system as primarily benefiting those already in power. Six in 10 Americans think that the powerful are the beneficiaries of the system, including two-thirds of independents.
In fact, a third of respondents said that Trump’s handling of the economy made them more likely to oppose his reelection.
Why? A poll from Monmouth University offers some hints.
Most Americans say that they themselves haven’t benefited much if at all from the good economy. Only among Republicans did more than half say they’d benefited some or a great deal.
But while Republicans generally say the economy has benefited them, people who live in counties that Trump won in 2016 by at least 10 points generally don’t say they’ve seen much benefit. There is another group that says it has seen a benefit, though: Those making more than $100,000 a year.
There are a lot of possible reasons for this, including that wealthier Americans really did get more of the benefit from Trump’s tax cuts. The growth in the stock market helped those who own stock — only about half the country, again skewed toward the more wealthy.
Americans seem to understand this. Monmouth asked respondents how much benefit different economic groups realized under Trump’s policies. Only 14 percent of respondents said poor or middle-class families benefited a lot. Six in 10 said wealthy families did. Only among Republicans was there a sense that every economic class saw a lot of benefit.
Even wealthier respondents were more likely to say that the wealthy benefited a lot than that the poor did. In counties that voted heavily for Trump, more than half said the wealthy benefited a lot while fewer than one in five said the poor did.
Consider what that means. Most Americans (and about 4 in 10 registered voters) say they didn’t see much benefit from the good economy and that Trump’s policies mostly benefit the rich. Most Americans, in The Post-ABC poll, see the economic system as stacked in favor of the powerful.
A good economy usually means a clearer path to reelection for a president. But when the effects of that economy aren’t felt by voters, that relationship becomes a lot murkier.
For those who think that this argument is a stretch, we need only look back about six months for an example of where the economy didn’t help the incumbent as much as one might expect.