Economists see Clinton, Johnson better suited to manage economy than Trump

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump
Carlo Allegri | Reuters
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may be trailing in second place behind Hillary Clinton among voters in polls, but among the nation's economists he's fallen into third place, behind Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.

Some 55 percent of those surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics said they thought Clinton would do the best job of managing the U.S. economy, behind Johnson with 15 percent and Trump with 14 percent.

And like many Americans, most of the group said they'll be glad once the election is over.

"More than three-fifths of respondents believe that uncertainty about the national election is holding back U.S. economic growth," said LaVaughn Henry, a NABE director who heads the survey committee.

The latest quarterly policy survey also weighed in on some of the most hotly contested issues of the 2016 presidential campaign: immigration reform, global trade, and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership deal to ease some trade restrictions and tariffs with U.S. trade partners.

The economists generally oppose policy proposals that have been central to the Trump campaign, including a pledge to wall off the southern border and deport all unauthorized immigrants.

Four out of 5 of the NABE economists surveyed, for example, think the government should remove restrictions on high-skill immigration. They also support creation of a legalization program for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Only 32 percent support funding increases for border enforcement. Only 8 percent favor deportation of all unauthorized immigrants.

Trump has also drawn wide support from his followers with frequent harangues on the perils of free trade. The economists don't exactly share his view.

Nearly two-thirds of them said that, under the next presidential administration and Congress, U.S. trade policy should become even more open. Twenty-three percent said current policy should remain unchanged, while only 9 percent said the U.S. should become more protectionist.

The debate over trade policies has centered on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping trade agreement that was finalized in February among 12 Pacific Rim countries, including the U.S, after seven years of negotiations. The deal is currently awaiting ratification by Congress where it faces an uphill battle.

(Clinton initially supported the deal, but now opposes the final terms. Trump opposes it, calling it a "horrible deal." While Libertarian Johnson has criticized the deal, he has said he would sign it if elected.)

Among the economists surveyed, slightly less than half support the TPP in its present form, but another 30 percent think the U.S. should seek better terms before signing on. Six percent said the deal should be rejected outright.

On other issues:

A majority of the group thinks that the federal minimum wage should either be raised or be increased with exemptions for some employers

By more than a 2-to-1 margin, the NABE economists also think that the government's tax and spending policies have been a drag on economic expansion. Two-thirds support changes in those policies to help boost growth. More than half support raising tax revenues by closing loopholes or increasing rates, and one-third favors tighter spending policies.

As for the Federal Reserve's interest rate policies, about half say the central bank is on the right track — down from 56 percent who thought so in March.

Some 41 percent think the Fed's current rate policy is too easy (up from 31 percent in the March survey), while 5 percent think policy is too restrictive (down from 11 percent in March.)