Risky business? Voters worry about Trump's tariff threats with China

Susan Page and Sarah Elbeshbishi

WASHINGTON — As President Trump prepares to talk trade with China's leader this week, Americans are worried that his threat to impose tough new tariffs on Beijing will hurt the economy back home.

Close to half of those surveyed in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll, 47 percent, predicted that ratcheting up tariffs on Chinese goods would harm the economy in their state; just 19 percent said it would help.

Those expressing concern included some of the president's core supporters, among them one in five Republicans and one in four of those who approved of the job Trump is doing as president. 

Trump has announced plans for an "extended" meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jingping at the Group of 20 summit in Japan, which starts June 28. Vice President Mike Pence said Friday there were signs of progress in talks with China, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the contentious trade negotiations.

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Steven Folden, 50, a firefighter and paramedic from Fayetteville, Georgia, is a Republican but says he is only "about 30 percent in agreement" with the president when it comes to trade. He said Trump's re-election could be affected. "If the economy stays strong and continues to do what it's doing, I think Trump will win," said Folden, who was among those polled. "If the economy falters in the least little bit ... I think (Joe) Biden will be the winner."

Amy Angel, 59, a Democrat from Fairfax, Va., warned of the consequences of stiff new tariffs.

"Prices are going to go up; we're going to lose jobs; it's going to hurt our economy," the stay-at-home mother of five said. "Strategically, I can only hope that it happens soon enough that it affects his re-election."

The debate over a trade war comes as Americans' attitudes toward the nation's direction are sunnier, one factor behind more positive views of the job Trump is doing. In the poll, 49 percent expressed approval of the president, one percentage point higher than in March. His disapproval rating was 48 percent, one point lower.

It was Trump's highest approval rating in the USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll and the first time in more than two years, since March 2017, that the president had a net positive approval rating. 

That said, the intensity of opinion continued to cut against him; 36 percent said they "strongly" disapproved; 29 percent said they "strongly" approved.

The poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken Tuesday through Saturday, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Forty-two percent said the nation was heading in the right direction. Although a larger number, 50 percent, say it was "on the wrong track," that is the most positive sentiment measured in the survey since Trump was inaugurated.

His approval rating on handling trade was a net negative, 45 percent approve-48 percent disapprove. So was support for his threat to impose tariffs on Mexican goods if Mexico doesn't curtail illegal immigration across the border: 44 percent support; 49 percent oppose.

"It affects not only China and Mexico, but...the everyday people here," said Judith Mora, 72, a Democrat from Sun Lakes, Arizona. "We're paying for the cost of it. Those tariffs are being passed right onto us."

But Melvin Oldaker, 55, an independent voter and former software installer from Nashville, approved of Trump's tough talk on trade. "Now, remember, the Democrats allowed these companies to go overseas and Trump is using the tariffs as a weapon...to get them to come back," he said. "I think companies are taking a second thought about sending their factories overseas."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Risky business? Voters worry about Trump's tariff threats with China