WASHINGTON (AP) — Chester Trahan's grandchildren are working, so he's feeling better about the economy these days. But his view of the country's overall direction is pretty grim, darkened by what he sees as a surge in racism and violence fueled by President Donald Trump.
"He stimulated it. Those people were always there, but he gave them a voice," said Trahan, a 78-year-old retiree from Palm Coast, Florida. He's not about to give Trump credit even for the good stuff. "I don't think he's really done anything to help the economy out. It's been doing pretty well for awhile."
Trahan's conflicted outlook of America under Trump — the economy is headed in a better direction than the country overall — is widely shared. A majority in a new poll, 52 percent, say they think the country's direction has worsened over the last year, and only 28 percent are optimistic that things will get better in the year to come.
Despite that gloomy outlook, Americans are more likely to see the national economy as having improved rather than worsened in the past 12 months, 39 percent to 24 percent, according to a survey released Friday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Another 36 percent said they don't see much difference.
"Well, I hold a job again," said Republican-leaning David Peterson of Torrance, California, 67, a quality assurance manager at an aerospace company who was forced to work at a security job for a year. "But recent events would point toward things getting worse. ... It's a lot of violence in the news. A lot of violence in the country. A lot of natural disasters."
Can-do optimism has been a feature of American culture since the nation's founding. But the poll suggests it's been challenged in the 13 months since Trump took office, amid devastating mass shootings, a deadly race riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, record-setting hurricanes and Trump's volatile White House. Not contributing to a sense of safety has been Trump's feud with North Korea.
But Trump also has the improving economy in his pocket, low unemployment and a stock market that has only recently begun to wobble. He and the Republican-led Congress scored a major policy victory at the end of 2017 by passing tax cuts into law.
That's important to how Americans feel about the lifelong businessman and his presidency. His base of support remains historically low but solid, with about about 35 percent of Americans saying they approve of how Trump is handling his job overall. Nearly two-thirds disapprove.
Yet 45 percent say they approve of Trump's handling of the economy. That's higher than the 34 percent who approve of how he's handling foreign policy and 37 percent who say the same of Trump's handling of immigration.
Even among Democrats, just 8 percent of whom say they approve of how Trump is handling his job overall, 21 percent say they approve of his handling of the economy. Among Republicans, three-quarters approve overall while 82 percent back his performance on the economy.
Republicans stand far ahead of Democrats and independents in terms of optimism about how things are going in the country.
For example, 57 percent of Republicans but just a tenth of Democrats think the direction of the country will improve in the next year. Nearly 7 in 10 Republicans — but just 13 percent of Democrats — believe the national economy is likely to improve. Republicans are even more optimistic than Democrats when it comes to thinking their personal finances will improve, 54 percent to 27 percent.
And in general, 64 percent of Republicans but just 11 percent of Democrats think the country is headed in the right direction. Overall, just 32 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction, while 68 percent think it's on the wrong track.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,337 adults was conducted Feb. 15-19 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: http://www.apnorc.org
This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Chester Trahan's name.
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