President Trump’s strongest case for reelection remains the country’s healthy economy, but the potency of that issue for him is complicated by a widespread belief that the economy mainly benefits people already in power, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.
The result previews a fresh wave of populism that could reshape yet another presidential campaign with about 18 months to go before voters decide whether to return Trump to the White House.
This sentiment runs the deepest among Democratic and independent registered voters but also exists among a significant slice of Republicans. About 8 in 10 Democrats and more than 6 in 10 independents say the country’s economic system gives an advantage to those already in power, while nearly a third of Republicans share that view.
The survey finds broad dissatisfaction with the country’s economic and political systems. Overall, 60 percent of all voters say the country’s economic system mainly benefits those in power, while 72 percent say the same for the nation’s political structures.
The polling results in many ways echo the populist fervor that swept Trump to an unlikely victory over more than a dozen Republican challengers in the 2016 presidential primary campaign and an improbable win over Democrat Hillary Clinton that November.
But the findings show that, ahead of 2020, the sentiment is also animating Democrats.
The message of economic populism is carried most prominently in the Democratic presidential field by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who since his unsuccessful 2016 campaign has pushed the party leftward on a range of issues, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who has proposed ideas such as a massive student loan forgiveness program and free tuition at public colleges paid for by taxing the rich.
Trump’s own party, meanwhile, appears largely satisfied with the existing economic system. In the Post-ABC poll, nearly two-thirds of Republican voters say the economic system works mainly to benefit all Americans, as opposed to just those in power.
Of four issues that were at the core of Trump’s first presidential campaign — the economy, illegal immigration, health care and trade — only the economy appears to be a clear asset for the president.
The survey finds that 42 percent of registered voters say Trump’s handling of the economy makes them more likely to vote for him in 2020, while 32 percent say it makes them less likely to support him. Independents similarly give Trump a positive grade on his management of the economy by a 10-point margin.
Among Republicans, the economy is the clearest positive motivator to reelect Trump, with 78 percent of GOP voters saying it makes them more likely to back him.
Under the Trump presidency, the U.S. economy has faced a spate of positive news, including an unemployment rate that has ticked downward since his inauguration in January 2017. The rate was 4.8 percent then, but that figure now stands at 3.8 percent.
Congressional Republicans have credited the 2017 tax law and the Trump administration’s rollback of government regulations for the economic growth — accomplishments GOP lawmakers promote while playing down the president’s personal behavior and controversial remarks.
“The employment rate for Wisconsin workers has reached historic — it has never been this low before ever, ever, ever — think of that,” Trump said Saturday at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wis. “We’re now the number one economy anywhere in the world, and it’s not even close.”
Trump does not fare as well in his handling of immigration and health care, two polarizing issues that have dealt him notable defeats.
On illegal immigration, 42 percent of voters say Trump’s handling of the issue makes them less likely to reelect him, while 34 percent say it makes them more likely. Twenty-two percent say the issue does not factor in their decision.
Trump rose to the top of the 2016 Republican presidential field with hard-line immigration stances — with a border wall as the centerpiece of his message — and has championed an aggressive crackdown on illegal migration and tougher standards for asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Congress has repeatedly turned down Trump’s demand for a border wall, prompting him to issue an emergency declaration to access federal money. The matter is being litigated in the courts.
Trump also has entertained significant measures to reduce the number of migrants apprehended at the border — a figure that topped 103,000 in March and marked the highest one-month total in more than 10 years.
He said he would close down the entire border until backing off the threat days later, and Trump has said he is considering sending undocumented immigrants to various sanctuary cities nationwide — a move that his administration has said is costly and legally dubious.
“I’m proud to tell you that was actually my sick idea,” Trump said in Green Bay. Law enforcement officials in sanctuary cities decline to cooperate with federal immigration authorities on public-safety grounds.
Trump’s handling of health care appears to be a bigger liability in his reelection bid, with 38 percent of voters saying it is a mark against him, compared with 25 percent who say it’s a reason to vote for him.
Republicans are less enthusiastic about Trump’s handling of health care than they are about other issues, with less than half — 46 percent — of GOP voters saying his management of the issue makes them more likely to vote for him.
After an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act marred the first year of his presidency, Trump abruptly announced last month that he wanted to revive that push, much to the dismay of many congressional Republicans. He ditched that effort almost as quickly as he floated it, saying he would rather hold a vote after the November 2020 election.
Among independents, Trump’s handling of health care is a negative attribute by an 11-point margin (36 percent to 25 percent).
Immigration and health care are also the biggest motivating factors for Democrats. Almost three-quarters of Democratic voters said Trump’s handling of illegal immigration makes them less likely to back him for a second term, while 69 percent say the same for his management of health care.
Voters are about evenly divided on the president’s handling of another top priority — international trade — with 34 percent saying his management of the issue makes them more likely to support him in 2020 and 36 percent saying it makes them more apt to oppose him.
Overall, Trump faces a higher hurdle to reelection than his predecessors, with 54 percent of voters disapproving of his job performance and 52 percent saying they will definitely not support him.
Although that level of opposition is four points lower than it was in January, when the country was mired in a partial government shutdown for which Trump bore the brunt of the blame, it is still somewhat higher than the level of opposition President Barack Obama faced during his first term, which topped out at 47 percent of voters.
The poll finds that 30 percent of registered voters say they will definitely support Trump’s reelection bid, while 14 percent say they will consider supporting him.
Despite Trump’s negative margin on this question, voters aren’t yet sold on backing his eventual Democratic opponent.
Just about one-third of voters who say they will not vote for Trump say they will definitely support the Democratic candidate, while about two-thirds in this group say they are “waiting to see” whom Democrats select as the party’s nominee.
One trait shared by both Democrats and Republicans in the Post-ABC poll is a high interest in participating in the 2020 election, even 18 months out.
Of registered voters, 85 percent say they are certain they will vote. That nearly matches the high point weeks before the 2016 presidential election, and it follows last fall’s midterm election, which had the highest turnout for a nonpresidential vote in more than a century, fueled by increased participation across demographic groups.
The enthusiasm between the parties is about equal, with 89 percent of Republican-leaning registered voters saying they are certain they will vote, compared with 86 percent of Democratic-leaning voters.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone April 22-25 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults, with 65 percent reached on cellphones and 35 percent on landlines. The margin of sampling error among 865 registered voters is plus or minus four percentage points.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.