The transition between President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump is producing some odd public opinion effects. For example, suddenly Americans are far more confident about the direction of the economy since October 2012. Could this be for substantive reasons? It’s a possibility, but an equally likely explanation is raw partisanship. Democrats are upbeat about the economy because a Democrat is still the president of the United States. As for GOP respondents, the Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos explains:
In the WSJ/NBC News poll, the improving economic sentiment is driven largely by Republicans’ postelection enthusiasm. Some 68% of Republican voters see the economy improving over the next year, versus 6% who believe it will get worse. Last year, just 14% of Republicans saw the economy improving, compared with 34% who saw it getting worse.
Once Obama is no longer president, I expect Democrat attitudes about the economy to plummet, which will lead to a whole rash of stories about how Americans are less confident now than back in December 2016. You’ve been warned.
Americans’ partisan attitudes about, well, everything are bleeding over into foreign policy. This has been happening for some time with U.S. public attitudes toward Israel. In the wake of the 2106 election — and Russian interference in the election — that polarization is affecting how Americans think about Russia as well. As my Washington Post colleague David Weigel reported earlier this month, a YouGov poll found large parts of the GOP changing its mind on Russian President Vladimir Putin:
In the summer of 2014, both Democrats and Republicans held negative views of the Russian president. His net negative rating with Democrats was 54 points; with Republicans, it was 66 points. At the time, the mainstream Republican foreign policy opinion was that a wily, aggressive Putin was rolling over U.S. interests in Europe. There was some punditry about Putin as a greater leader than President Obama, but it did not shift views of Putin himself.
Trump’s campaign did so. There’s been a 56-point positive shift among Republicans in their views of Putin; his net negative rating is now just 10 points. While Clinton voters view Putin negatively by 72 points, Trump voters do so by a slim 16-point margin.
On Wednesday, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released its survey results from the past weekend (full disclosure: I’m on the board of advisers for the survey team). See if you can spot the partisan split on one of their Russia questions!
Now I don’t want to overstate the partisan split too much. Some Republicans now have a more favorable attitude toward Russia, but the general trend is extremely negative. Indeed, the Chicago Council’s overall numbers show negative attitudes toward Russia at their highest levels since the heyday of the Cold War:
So there are two ways of looking at this data. The first is that it’s gobsmacking that political polarization is affecting attitudes toward a rival great power by this much. The second is that even given those partisan effects, the top-line results have moved in the expected direction.
After Jan. 20, it will be interesting to see how American attitudes toward the economy shift. The more we get a peek under the hood of the Trump administration’s foreign economic policy team and the ideas that they are floating, the more convinced I am that this won’t end well for either the American or the global economy. Now maybe I’m wrong — or rather, maybe neoclassical economics is wrong. But everything I’ve heard from Trump about the economy suggests his approach to these issues is pretty blinkered.
If Trump had one gift as a politician, it was focusing on voters who felt that they had been neglected by both parties over the past generation. What I am super-curious about is whether those voters will still value that political recognition even as Trump’s economic policies punish them mercilessly.