President Trump is ending a tumultuous summer with his approval rating slipping back from a July high as Americans express widespread concern about the trade war with China and a majority of voters now expect a recession within the next year, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The survey highlights how one of Trump’s central arguments for reelection — the strong U.S. economy — is beginning to show signs of potential turmoil as voters express fears that the escalating trade dispute with China will end up raising the price of goods for U.S. consumers.
The poll also shows a schism between Americans’ continued positive ratings of the economy and fears of a downturn, with far more saying Trump’s policies have increased chances of a recession than decreased it.
Trump’s approval rating among voting-age Americans stands at 38 percent, down from 44 percent in early July but similar to 39 percent in April, with 56 percent now saying they disapprove of his performance in office. Among registered voters, 40 percent say they approve of Trump, while 55 percent disapprove.
Concerns over the economy — and specifically Trump’s handling of trade negotiations with China — have become a drag on the president’s public standing, particularly with women.
The Post-ABC poll finds that Trump’s economic approval rating has also declined from 51 percent in early July to 46 percent in the new survey, with 47 percent disapproving. His relatively positive standing on the economy continues to buoy his reputation amid public criticism on other issues.
In the July survey, the economy was the sole issue on which Trump received positive numbers, with more than half of all Americans disapproving of his handling of immigration, health care, gun violence, climate change and other issues.
Trump’s handling of trade negotiations with China is a particularly weak spot, with 35 percent in the new poll approving of him on this issue and 56 percent disapproving.
While a 56 percent majority of Americans rate the economy as “excellent” or “good,” that figure is down from 65 percent in November. A separate question finds 6 in 10 say that a recession is either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” in the next year. That fear compares with 69 percent who said a recession was likely in fall 2007, shortly before the recession began later that year.
Separate national surveys by the University of Michigan and the Conference Board found that consumer confidence fell in August, driven by lowered expectations for the economy’s future. But as with the Post-ABC poll, ratings of the economy remain positive.
Fears of an impending recession have taken hold across much of the political spectrum, amid a slowing pace of job growth and the emergence of an “inverted yield curve” in the U.S. bond market last month.
The stock market has gyrated wildly in recent weeks, with some investors seeing last month’s bond market developments as a harbinger of a recession. Trump has taken an erratic approach in response to the economic turbulence, attacking his handpicked Federal Reserve Board chair, floating and then abandoning plans for a new tax cut, and vacillating between praising and pillorying Chinese President Xi Jinping amid an escalating trade war.
The president has also sought to talk up the U.S. economy and praise his handling of it, while casting any talk of a slowdown as mere politics.
“Our economy is strong, our country is great, we’ve never been in a better position,” Trump said in a video posted to Twitter on Saturday. “To all fellow American citizens, I say one simple word: Congratulations.”
The Post-ABC poll finds 43 percent of Americans say Trump’s trade and economic policies have increased the chance of a recession in the next year, more than double the 16 percent who say his policies have decreased the likelihood of a recession. Another 34 percent say Trump’s policies have not made a difference.
Many worry about a personal financial cost of the trade war, with 6 in 10 saying they are concerned that the current dispute with China will raise the price of things their family buys, including one-third who are “very concerned” about this.
While Americans have increasingly viewed the economy through a partisan lens, Democrats and Republicans disagree more about the current strength of the economy than at any point in more than a decade. Nine in 10 Republicans say the economy is in excellent or good shape, compared with 33 percent of Democrats. The 57-point partisan gap is far larger than any seen previously during the Trump administration or during the Obama administration, in which the largest divide was 43 percentage points.
But among political independents, ratings for both the economy and Trump have sagged. A slight 52 percent majority currently rate the economy positively — down from 66 percent in November — and 6 in 10 think a recession is at least somewhat likely in the next year.
Independents split on Trump’s economic stewardship, with 46 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving, a backslide from July, when approval outpaced disapproval by 12 points. Nearly 6 in 10 independents disapprove of Trump’s handling of trade negotiations with China, and a similar share are concerned about the trade dispute raising prices for things their families buy.
Trump’s overall approval rating among independents is deeply underwater, with 36 percent approving of his job performance and 58 percent disapproving. That compares with a narrower negative split of 43 percent approval to 54 percent disapproval two months ago.
The poll finds a persistent and large gender gap in views of Trump; women give him some of his lowest approval ratings and express elevated concern about the economy. Thirty percent of women approve of his job performance, with 64 percent disapproving. Men are evenly split: 47 percent approve of Trump and another 47 disapprove.
Nearly two-thirds of men say the economy is in good or excellent condition, compared with just under half of women. But there is little gender gap in concerns about a recession; 57 percent of men and 62 percent of women say it is likely.
Concerns about tariffs raising costs differ sharply along partisan lines. More than 8 in 10 Democrats say they are concerned that the trade dispute with China will raise the price of things their family buys, compared with about 3 in 10 Republicans.
But sizable shares of Trump’s core supporters say they are worried about price increases because of tariffs, including 55 percent of whites without college degrees, 54 percent of people living in rural areas and 45 percent of white evangelical Protestants. Concern rises to about 6 in 10 political independents and people living in the suburbs, two key swing voting groups.
In a trend that has persisted throughout his administration, Trump receives some of his lowest marks from minorities. Among nonwhites as a whole, 21 percent approve of Trump’s job performance, while 71 percent disapprove. His approval rating among whites is 48 percent, with 47 percent disapproving.
The Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone from Sept. 2 to Sept. 5 among a random national sample of 1,003 adults, 65 percent of whom were reached on cellphones and 35 percent on landlines. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is four points among the sample of 877 registered voters and is larger for other subgroups.