Support for Donald Trump’s trade war is collapsing among Americans.
That’s the message from a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which shows that 64% of Americans agreed with the statement that free trade is good for the country.
That is a record high, and up sharply from the 57% reported early in Trump’s presidency, and above levels seen during the Obama administration, which suggests the trade war is backfiring in terms of public sentiment.
Admittedly, the wording of Statement A has the potential to bias the results, but you could say the same thing about Statement B, and besides, respondents had the opportunity to choose “Mixed” or “Neither”.
Worryingly for the White House, the breakdown shows Independents support free trade by a gargantuan 77%-15% margin, which is even higher that Democrats. The margin among Republicans was 52%-39% in favor. In other other words, the majority of voters from both parties plus Independents support free trade.
The timing of the survey probably didn’t help. The poll was taken from August 10-14, meaning respondents were being inundated with dire-sounding news about markets and the economy.
Democratic pollsters from Hart Research Associates said Trump is essentially undermining his own cause. “While Trump plays a game of chicken on tariffs, a record number of Americans believe that free trade is good”, Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt said.
Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the poll along with Hart Research, cited the polarizing effect of the president. “If Donald Trump is for it and you’re a Democrat, you move in a very different direction”, he remarked.
(Note: That isn’t true when it comes to trade. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren share many of Trump’s trade priorities, although clearly, they would be doing things in a way that’s not nearly as ham-handed.)
More broadly, Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy by a narrow 3ppt margin, 49%-46%. That is down markedly from 51%-41% just three months ago and 50%-34% 13 months ago.
The numbers come amid reports that the White House has become increasingly paranoid about the prospects of an economic downturn in 2020.
The irony, of course, is that the actual economic data is broadly upbeat. As the University of Michigan’s Richard Curtin was polite enough to point out on Friday, the president is becoming his own worst enemy when it comes to economic sentiment to the extent the public is taking its cues from the Fed.
As NBC notes in their documentation of the new poll, “Trump’s political standing remains in dangerous territory ahead of his re-election fight next year, with just four in 10 Americans approving of his job and saying they’ll vote for him in 2020”.
“This is not an attractive set of numbers for an incumbent”, McInturff, the Republican pollster, admitted.