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Despite economic growth, voters are uneasy — what it means for businesses and 2020

Throughout the summer, Bully Pulpit Interactive will be sharing polling data and analysis from our recent national survey. Our next piece will focus on public attitudes toward the tech industry.

President Trump and his allies frequently tout the state of the economy as a testament to his leadership, and it’s easy to see why. The US market has added jobs for the 104th straight month; the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low; and stock market indices are at healthy levels.

Moreover, at first glance, Americans appear to share an optimistic outlook. According to BPI’s inaugural poll[1] on Americans’ attitudes regarding the economy, conducted among registered voters nationwide last month, a majority of American voters, 66%, see the economy as excellent or good, and 65% expect their personal finances to be better in two years.

But this top-line macroeconomic picture doesn’t tell the whole story. Beneath the surface of Americans’ belief in the economy’s overall strength there is pervasive economic uncertainty and anxiety.

Conventional surveys assess Americans’ perceptions on the state of the economy as a whole. But when you ask about they feel about the pillars of economic security, a different story emerges. The results of BPI’s study show pervasive undercurrents of economic fragility.

While most voters see the overall economy doing well, there are real doubts about personal financial security:

· Only 34% of voters have full confidence they can cover their monthly expenses, and

· Just 31% are fully confident in the stability of their jobs.

· And only 35% strongly agree that if they “work hard, [they] can get ahead and meet [their] financial goals,” suggesting a pervasive sense that the rules of the economy are titled against them.

These concerns run particularly deep with younger voters. Fewer than a third of voters under 35 say they are better off than their parents were at their age (and 38% feel they are worse off). Fully 58% of these younger voters say they think they worry more about money than their parents did at their age.

Bully Pulpit Interactive has indexed a series of 9 economic indicators measuring feelings of economic security and well-being. This index measures attitudes on:

Using voters’ responses, we see a bell-shaped curve tilted toward unease when it comes to economic confidence.

· About 5% of Americans are “very secure” — they strongly agree across all 9 indicators, that they can afford an unexpected expense, feel fully comfortable making their monthly payments, feel secure in their current jobs and retirement, have a comfortable amount of free time, etc.

· About 20% of Americans are “secure” — they strongly agree with most of our economic security indicators.

Together, these two groups represent about a quarter of Americans. They are, on average, more male than the overall population, they are older (62% are over 50 years old), they are more likely to be college grads, and they are whiter than the overall population (83% of this group is white).

The remaining 75% of the electorate feels some degree of economic uncertainty.

· 48%, a plurality of voters, are “uneasy.” They only strongly agree with 4 or fewer of our economic security statements, indicating unease in their financial situation.

· 23% of the electorate is “worried” — they do not strongly agree with any of our core indicators that align to economic security.

· And 4% of voters are “on the margins.” These people disagree on all 9 indicators — that is, they cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense; they cannot cover their monthly expenses comfortably; they do not have confidence in the stability of their jobs, nor their ability to find a new one; they do not have friends or family they could rely on in a financial emergency; etc.

There are two primary implications to this dynamic.

First, for brands communicating on economic issues, it’s critical they understand and reflect the unease most Americans are feeling on the economy. This is not “Morning in America,” and communications that reflect a purely rosy view of the economy and the opportunity it provides will miss the mark for the majority of consumers.

Second, it’s very likely that the economy will play a more central role in the upcoming presidential election than the conventional wisdom holds. Voters’ views around President Trump and the economy reflect this economic unease. BPI’s polling shows:

· Only 34% of voters believe President Trump is working to affect the economy in a way that make things better for them — and nearly half, 49%, say he is working in a way that makes things worse. The remaining 17% say his actions are making no impact on the economy.

· Independent voters are even more skeptical: only 19% see Trump making the economy better for them, with a 53%-majority saying he is making things worse.

· Even white non-college voters — in many ways Trump’s base — are not convinced: these voters are evenly split 42% to 42% if Trump is a force for good or bad in their personal economy.

Indeed, the quarter of voters who demonstrate real economic security are also the only segment of the population that Trump is winning. He wins these voters by 14 points

But those less secure are deeply skeptical of the president. He is losing by 22 points among the economically uneasy, and by 26 points among those worried or on the margins.

Partially driving this: Democrats’ analysis of the economy is significantly more in line with voters’ feelings than Trump’s.

The Democrats’ story — one based on rising health care costs, inequality, and companies putting profits before all — resonates more with voters. A large majority of Americans, 84%, believe health care companies contribute to the economic difficulties they face. Rising health care costs is the leading factor for both Republicans’ and Democrats’ personal financial challenges. And voters, including majority shares of Independents, believe that businesses putting their profits ahead of their employees and communities, and government tax breaks to millionaire contribute to their problems.

Trump’s economic villains register far lower in culpability: fewer believe that their economic difficulties are due to immigrants taking jobs, or foreign countries taking advantage of trade laws, or Americans losing work ethic, or too many people receiving government assistance.

President Trump may think he is winning on the economy — but the majority of voters disagree with his analysis of its problems and are skeptical of his prescriptions. Democrats have a winning message, especially if they tell that story in emotional terms to tap into the unease so many feel.

Throughout the summer, Bully Pulpit Interactive will be sharing polling data and analysis from our recent national survey. Our next piece will focus on public attitudes toward the tech industry.

[1] BPI conducted an online poll of 825 nationally-representative registered voters from May 17–20, 2019. The margin of error on a random sample of 825 is +/- 3.4 percentage points.

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