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- President Donald Trump has made the strength of the US economy a cornerstone of his 2020 reelection campaign. But he has reason to be alarmed if the economy were to tank under his watch.
- About 51% of the respondents in a new Insider poll said they would hold Trump directly or indirectly responsible if the nation's economy were to spiral into a recession.
- The results reflect the conventional wisdom that voters typically blame the elected officials in power for any economic slowdown.
- Almost half of all respondents, or 47%, said they believed a recession was imminent in the near future.
- The trends indicate that pessimism among Americans about the nation's economic future is growing.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump has made the strength of the American economy a cornerstone of his 2020 reelection campaign. But he has reason to be alarmed if the economy tanks under his watch.
About 51% of all respondents in an Insider poll from mid-August said they would hold Trump responsible if the nation's economy were to spiral into a recession — a figure that includes people who blamed Trump's policies. The results reflect the conventional wisdom that voters typically blame the elected officials in power for any economic slowdown.
There was a partisan divide, however, when it came to assigning responsibility. The figure was far higher among self-identified Democrats, 74% of whom said they'd point the finger at Trump, compared with only 20% of self-identified Republicans.
And more voters seem to think an economic downturn is on the horizon: Almost half of all respondents, or 47%, said they believed a recession was imminent in the near future.
Insider asked 1,092 respondents about their beliefs on whether a recession was imminent and which people or institutions they would hold responsible for a slowing economy with a fill-in-the-blank question: "If there were a recession in the US next year, what or who would you most blame?"
Then respondents were invited to identify a person or institution they would blame for a recession. Besides Trump and his policies — which include his trade wars — they included China, Congress, Democrats, the economy, the Federal Reserve, the GOP, the government, the wealthy, and the news media among others.
Confidence in the economy is cooling — and voters are starting to blame Trump
The Trump administration has reportedly been anxious about the possibility of a recession. And Trump has repeatedly cast blame on the Federal Reserve for not slashing interest rates and not doing more to bolster economic growth, even though its policies have largely supported it, according to a New York Times analysis last month.
Over the summer, there's been a significant slide among observers in their confidence toward the economy, as it shows signs of slowing down after a record decade-long expansion. Though jobs are abundant and wages are rising, Trump's trade war with China has depressed hiring and businesses have sharply pulled back on their spending.
In late August, a poll from Quinnipiac University found that more registered voters said the economy was getting worse than said it was getting better, the first time that'd happened since Trump was elected. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said the economy was deteriorating, compared with 31% who said it was improving and 30% who believed it was staying the same.
The sour mood has threatened Trump's electoral prospects, since 70% of the economy is powered by consumer spending and any belt-tightening could actually accelerate a recession's arrival. That said, consumer confidence is still high, though it fell a tad last month.
A gender gap was also present in the results as male respondents were less likely to hold Trump responsible for a recession than female ones. Among men, 47% said they would blame Trump for a recession, slightly lower than the 54% of female respondents who would do the same.
Trump also has suggested there's a conspiracy among his critics to skew economic data, engineer a recession, and damage his reelection chances in 2020. But Insider data shows voters aren't buying it.
Here are some additional highlights from that poll:
- Americans across age groups placed the blame at Trump's doorstep for a recession. Forty-six percent of self-identified 18- to 29-year-old respondents said they would hold the president responsible, compared with an equal percentage of 30- to 44-year-olds. Then 38% of respondents ages 45 to 60 and 51% of those over 60 years old said they would blame Trump.
- Among Republican respondents, the greatest share of them said they would blame Democrats at 28%, followed by Congress at 13%. Only 20% said they would blame Trump or his policies.
- The Federal Reserve, a favorite target of Trump, garnered only 4% among Republicans, indicating the president's attacks may not be effective at deflecting responsibility among his supporters. The news media, another punching bag for the president, received only 2%.
- Men were slightly more likely to blame Democrats for an economic downturn compared with women, 14% to 8%.
An increasing share of Americans think a recession will happen in the near future
Insider also asked nearly 1,100 respondents about their views on the economy with the question: "What comes closest to your view of the economy?"
Nearly half of the respondents said a recession was likely in the near future. Here is a breakdown of the results:
- 26% said they believed a recession was probably imminent.
- 21% responded that they believed a recession would happen fairly soon but that the growth cycle hadn't ended.
- 18% said they believed there would eventually be a recession, but not for a while.
- 11% said the next recession was several years away.
- 7% of respondents believed the next recession was far into the future.
- 18% said they didn't know.
The results largely align with a recent ABC News poll, which found that six in 10 Americans said a recession was likely in the next year. About 43% said Trump's combative trade policies increased the odds of one.
The trends indicate pessimism among voters about the nation's economic future may be growing. That tracks with a recent survey from the National Association for Business Economics, where economists said there's a 60% chance of a recession happening by the end of 2020.
Yet despite the grim economic outlook, Trump's reelection odds aren't doomed. Economists say the nation is more likely to experience a period of sluggish growth rather than a full-blown recession — at least until next year, when a downturn carries more political cost.
Political experts have also cautioned that the polarization fueled by the Trump presidency could lead to partisanship outweighing traditional voter concerns like the economy.
"Due to intense levels of polarization in the electorate, a recession is not likely to take Trump's already abysmal reelection numbers much further down, although I would expect some modest erosion," Rachel Bitecofer, an assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, told Vox.
A lot of factors could turn the 2020 presidential election — a nosediving economy is certainly one of them, but fiery cultural battles at home and an international crisis are others. Whether the economy is weighing on voters' minds when they cast a ballot next year is still early to tell, but it'll most likely remain a key factor as they choose who should be in the White House.
SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. Total 1,092 respondents collected August 16-17, 2019, a margin of error of plus or minus 3.01 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.