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Far more Americans trust Donald Trump to handle the US economy than Joe Biden despite months of strong growth, a new poll has found, underscoring the president’s difficulty in convincing voters his policies are improving their financial wellbeing.
The survey for the Financial Times and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business found that 42 per cent of Americans felt Trump would be the best steward of the US economy, while only 31 per cent chose Biden. Around one in five — 21 per cent — said they trusted neither.
The results compound a difficult week for the president, who was rattled by a withering judicial report that described him as an “elderly man with a poor memory”, validating many voters’ concerns about his age and mental acuity.
Trump’s strength in the FT poll comes despite voters reporting modest improvements in their personal financial conditions and their outlook for the overall economy, raising questions about whether robust growth, a strong jobs market, and falling inflation can improve Biden’s re-election chances.
“Biden’s messaging that the economy is doing well under him hasn’t convinced many people,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the Ross School of Business.
“Despite his repeated statements and despite government numbers that support him, he hasn’t moved the disapproval needle,” Gordon added, noting that the poll showed one in three voters believed Biden’s economic policies have “hurt the economy a lot”.
The monthly FT-Michigan Ross poll seeks to track voter sentiment on the US economy in the run-up to the election in November, which is increasingly likely to be a rematch between former president Trump and the incumbent Biden.
When asked how they would describe their current financial situation, 46 per cent of voters said they could “live comfortably” or “meet expenses with a little left over” — up three points from when the same question was asked in November 2023, the first month of the FT-Michigan Ross poll.
Just over a quarter — 27 per cent — said overall economic conditions in the US were “excellent” or “good”, compared with 21 per cent in November.
But when asked whether they approved of the way Biden is handling the economy, just 36 per cent of voters said they did — unchanged from November.
The poll pointed to the sharp partisan divides that are weighing on Biden’s approval ratings. Seventy-one per cent of Democrats said they approved of Biden’s handling of the economy, compared with just 5 per cent of Republican voters.
But the survey also laid bare differences between different demographic groups. Trump continues to enjoy significant strength among lower-income Americans, suggesting the recent boom is not being felt equally across the economic divide.
College graduates were almost twice as likely to have a positive view of the economy than people without university degrees, and the share of voters who said they had a positive view of the economy increased progressively with voters’ incomes.
There were also significant gender and age differences. About a third of men said they had a positive view of the US economy, compared with just one-fifth of women, while older voters were more likely to have a positive view than younger people.
Trump holds a clear lead over Nikki Haley in the race for the Republican nomination, after decisive wins in last month’s Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Haley has vowed to press on to the next big primary contest this month, in South Carolina, where she was governor.
Haley has highlighted her foreign policy experience in her campaign messaging, but the latest FT-Michigan Ross poll showed her trailing Biden on the economy: 31 per cent to just 21 per cent for the former US ambassador to the UN. A little over a third of respondents said they trusted neither.
Among Republican voters, Haley fared far worse in a comparison with Biden than Trump did. Almost 85 per cent of Republicans said they trusted Trump over Biden, while only 39 per cent of Republicans said they trusted Haley over Biden.
The FT-Michigan Ross poll was conducted online by Democratic strategists Global Strategy Group and Republican polling firm North Star Opinion Research between February 2 and 5. It reflects the opinions of 1,006 registered voters nationwide, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.