President Donald Trump began his tenure with the lowest approval ratings ever recorded for a modern president. His supporters, however, continue to maintain high hopes for what Trump can achieve, at least on the economy. Moreover, Americans continue to be sharply divided, along partisan lines, about their expectations for the economy as a whole and for their personal circumstances.
In October of 2016 and then again in early March, Lincoln Park Strategies asked 1,000 American adults how they think the U.S. economy has done over the last couple years, how they think their area of the country is doing compared to other areas, and how they feel they are doing personally compared to most people in the country. What we found is that Trump voters have swung from negative to positive in their expectations and optimism, while supporters of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton say the reverse.
In our survey last fall, we found that 37 percent of Trump voters expected the economy to get worse while 41 percent of Clinton voters expected things to get better (presumably under a then-widely-expected Clinton presidency). Today, 72 percent of Trump voters now expect an improved economy, nearly five times as many as just five months ago. Meanwhile, the share of Clinton voters who continue to hold on to their optimistic view of the economy moving forward has dropped to just 15 percent, and 47 percent believe it will get worse.
Thanks to the sharp swing in sentiment among Trump voters, 38 percent of Americans in our survey overall feel the economy will improve over the next two years (a 12-point increase since October), while 23 percent think it will stay the same (a 4 point decrease) and 26 percent think it will get worse (only a 1 point decrease).
Trump’s supporters not only have high expectations for his presidency, they also now view their own economic situation in a different light. Based on the data from our survey, we placed on a seven- point economic outlook scale from very negative [-3] to very positive [+3].
As the chart below shows, before the election, Clinton voters mostly viewed the economy positively with 23 percent viewing themselves, their area, and the U.S. economy as doing better. Trump voters, on the other hand, were the opposite, with just 5 percent seeing all three aspects positively and 21 percent viewing all three measures pessimistically. Today, just 11 percent of Clinton voters now say that the U.S. economy, their area, and themselves are doing better. And on the flipside, Trump voters are now three times as likely to view these economic measurements positively as compared to five months ago (16 percent vs. 5 percent).
While observations of the partisan split in economic expectations are not new, our surveys show that this polarization not only continues but may in fact have worsened with Trump’s election. Our results also point to a few intriguing questions as the Trump presidency unfolds. First, Trump is dealing with some very big expectations from his supporters when it comes to the economy. How forgiving will his supporters be when Trump’s promises fail to materialize or, as is likely the case on issues such as health care and jobs, Trump’s policies end up hurting his core supporters? Second, it’s clear now more than ever that Americans are living in alternate realities based on alternative perceptions and even “alternative facts.” What, if anything, can reconcile these competing perspectives? If the first few weeks of Trump’s presidency are any indication, Trump will be doing his best to sharpen these partisan divisions, not reconcile them. And while that might be good politics, it is tough to see how that is good for the country.