Americans Give Trump Higher Grades on Economy Than Overall

By Eli StokolsFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Although President Donald Trump's overall approval ratings have hit record lows, he is getting significantly higher marks in one important area: his handling of the economy.

With the U.S. unemployment rate holding at a 17-year low, hiring strong and the stock market hitting regular records, Mr. Trump is getting stronger reviews from the public on the economy, with 42% approving and 37% disapproving, according to the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, conducted in late October.

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That stands in stark contrast to his overall approval rating, which dropped last week to 32%, the lowest point of his 11-month presidency, according to a Pew Research Center poll. His disapproval rating of 68% in the same survey was also a new high.

The WSJ poll showed the president with a 38% approval rating, his lowest to date in this poll, while 58% disapproved of his overall performance.

A Gallup survey from November showed the president's approval rating for his handling of the economy at 45%, eight points ahead of his overall approval number, which sagged to 37%.

"He's a political contortionist in that he has high economic numbers and very low personal approval ratings. That's almost impossible to do," said Peter Hart, a veteran Democratic pollster.

On Friday, the White House celebrated the December jobs report that showed the economy gaining 228,000 jobs in November.

"President Trump's bold economic vision continues to pay off," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that also referenced an increase in manufacturing jobs since the president took office. "As we continue to unleash the American economy from unnecessary regulation and taxes, we look forward to seeing more reports like this, showing a healthy and thriving jobs market for the American people."

The president expects to sign a final version of the GOP's $1.4 trillion tax overhaul before the end of the year. White House political director Bill Stepien, who didn't respond to a request to comment, has expressed confidence in the past that strong economic numbers, especially in the states Mr. Trump won in the 2016 election, will be enough to help him overcome other political liabilities.

"The issues that drove the 2016 election -- change Washington and fix the economy -- continue to break President Trump's way. Today's strong economy is a bulwark for the party in power as it faces the electorate next year in congressional elections," said Bill McInturff of the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. Mr. McInturff directs the Journal/NBC News poll with Democrat Fred Yang.

Mr. Hart isn't so sure. He pointed to a recent focus group he conducted with North Carolina voters. He said they were less willing to forgive Mr. Trump's sometimes controversial behavior amidst a strong economy than they were with President Bill Clinton two decades earlier.

"During the Clinton impeachment, people said, 'Look, the economy is doing fine.' They weren't in a mood to pursue impeachment," Mr. Hart said. "What's different now is the country is looking for an equilibrium and the president keeps the country constantly on edge. There's never enough of a lull for voters to get their breath and say, 'I'm comfortable.' And that's why Trump doesn't get the full political benefit of the economic growth."

Some administration allies have been trying to impress upon the president and his communications team that he would be in a stronger political position if he created fewer distractions with his tweets, according to people familiar with those conversations.

Write to Eli Stokols at eli.stokols@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 10, 2017 12:13 ET (17:13 GMT)