Trump's approval rating dips amid opposition to tariffs and little change from tax cuts, CNBC survey says

  • The president's approval rating dipped to 39 percent from 42 percent in December, according to CNBC's latest All-America Economic survey.
  • His decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum is not well supported by the public, with 35 percent opposing them and 29 percent supporting them.
  • The poll, conducted March 17-20, shows that the tax cuts have not been felt, at least not yet.

While nearly all financial indicators of American economic optimism have surged to post-recession highs, President Donald Trump's approval rating has dipped amid opposition to his tariffs and little effect seen so far from the tax cuts.

The CNBC All-America Economic Survey for March shows the president's approval rating dipping a bit, to 39 percent from 42 percent in December. That's within the 3.5 percentage point margin of error of the poll, but it's also within 3 points of every poll taken by CNBC during Trump's presidency. His disapproval rating rose to 50 percent from 49 percent and 11 percent were unsure.

His economic approval rating also slipped, to 45 percent from his all-time of 47 percent in December, but it's within 1 point of his average during his presidency.

Every economic indicator in the poll of 800 Americans throughout the country is at or near a postrecession high. Half of all Americans judge the economy as good or excellent, the only time the percentage has been above 50 for two-straight quarters in the 11 year history of the poll.

In addition, 38 percent expect the economy to improve in the next year, the second highest number since the Great Recession. And 41 percent of homeowners expect the value of their homes to increase in the next year, the highest mark since 2007.

"Trump's job approval numbers are very stable, underpinned by strong partisan, gender, and generational divides,'' said Micah Roberts, the Republican pollster for the survey for Public Opinion Strategies. "Whatever else we might say about the historical significance of how low his overall approval is, it is also worth noting how historically stable this number has been over an otherwise very politically turbulent year."

Jay Campbell, the Democratic pollster with Hart Research, sees factors other than the economy pulling down on the president's numbers.

"Approval of any president are the sum of the nation's parts, and the economy is just one of those parts," Campbell said. "Our strong economy is unarguably working to President Trump's benefit, keeping his approval numbers afloat. But there are multiple other factors that, at the same time, are pulling him down."

Some insight into the stagnant nature of the president's numbers can be found in American opinions on his policies. Perhaps most importantly, the data show that the tax cuts have not been felt, at least not yet. The poll was conducted March 17-20, which should be well enough into the year for Americans to notice a change in their withholding taxes. But that's not the case.

Just 32 percent of employed adults report having more take home pay because of the tax cuts, including only 48 percent of Trump supporters and 35 percent of the middle class. More than half say they see no change in their paychecks and 16 percent are unsure. It could be that more time is needed for people to notice the change. It could also be that the tax cut provided too small a break to be meaningful to many Americans.

Some evidence of this comes from the 32 percent who say they have noticed more take-home pay. Of this group, only 38 percent say the extra pay helps their financial situation "a great deal" or "a fair amount, while 40 percent say it helps some or just a little, and 22 percent say "it does not help much at all."

The president's decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is not well supported by the public. To be sure, 36 percent of Americans say they don't have an opinion, but 35 percent oppose the tariffs and 29 percent support them. Just 28 percent say the tariffs would be good for the overall economy, and 44 percent fear they will raise prices for consumers.

And despite strident rhetoric from the president, American attitudes toward Canada, Mexico and China are actually improving. Fewer see them as an economic threat than in CNBC's previous surveys. For example, just 24 percent say Canada represents more of an economic threat than an economic opportunity, down from 32 percent when the question was last asked in March 2016. Views on Mexico and China have improved, although they are within the margin of error for the poll.

Amid these negatives for the president's economic policies, the Republican Party still looks to have an advantage over Democrats on the economy. By a 34 percent to 25 percent margin, Americans say Republicans are better at dealing with the economy, a reversal from the 35 to 30 percent Democratic edge when the question was last asked in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll in December.

The results stem from an intensity of partisanship. While 54 percent of Democrats believe the Democratic Party is best on the economy, a strong 81 percent of Republicans choose their own party.

Republicans in the CNBC poll held a 37 percent to 28 percent margin on the issue of which party is best for creating jobs. But Democrats by a 40 percent to 28 percent margin are thought to be best for "looking out for the middle class."

Meanwhile, recent volatility and declines in the stock market have put a dent in Americans' optimism over equities. After surging in December, American attitudes toward the stock market have fallen back to Earth. Just 41 percent say this is a good time to invest in stocks, a sharp fall from 50 percent recorded in December. But it's only declined back to the average of the past several years, and done so with a strong percentage of Americans saying they now own stock.

Since 2015, the All-America survey has chronicled a slow, steady rise in the percentage of Americans who own stock. From a low of 51 percent in 2015, 58 percent of Americans now say they own some equities, the highest level since survey began. (Two other surveys showed higher results, but they were for registered voters, not all adults, as is the norm for this survey.)

And the gains look to be coming from across the income spectrum. Stock ownership is up about 4.5 percentage points among those who report owning $50,000 or less in stock. It's up just a bit more among those say they own $50,000 or more in stock.

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