On Sunday a New York Times exposé on President Trump’s tax returns The past two decades have seen decades of tax avoidance and millions in business losses. The picture painted of Trump’s return is in stark contrast to the smart, enterprising image that the president tried to create as a real estate mogul and TV star on a show that revolves around his business skills: “The Apprentice”. Now, five weeks after election day, the question is whether these new revelations will affect the president’s race.
There are two parts to this question: First, will the Times revelations change the perception of Trump’s record as a businessman? Second, is Trump’s business acumen perception important whom voters support?
We’ll take these one at a time, but spoiler alert: Previous polls and research disprove the notion that “nothing matters” when it comes to the public’s perception of the president.
In May 2019, according to the New York Times published a report This showed that Trump lost around $ 1.2 billion between 1985 and 1994. According to public polls, the story could lower public opinion about Trump’s business acumen. In one Politico / Morning Consult survey54 percent of voters said Trump was a “very successful” or “somewhat successful” businessman, while only 36 percent believed he was unsuccessful. However, after learning about Trump’s financial losses, the percentage of voters who considered him a successful businessman fell to 43 percent. And that decline was felt across the board, falling more than 10 percentage points for Democrats and Republicans and 8 points for Independents. Meanwhile, another poll by Fox News in May 2019 suggested that evidence against Trump’s business acumen could influence the attitudes of a small but significant segment of the electorate: 20 percent said there is a “strong” or “some” chance that new revelations could influence their views about him.
This survey from 2019 in the square with findings of a Study by political scientists at the University of Marylandwho found that voters’ views on Trump’s business skills fell among both Democrats and Republicans when they were told that Trump had benefited significantly from his family’s financial aid. The study showed that lack of knowledge of Trump’s background was important to the perception of Americans, as a sizable proportion of Americans – around 40 to 50 percent – did not know that Trump grew up and very wealthy received millions in financial support from his family. When respondents had fewer misconceptions about the president’s financial background and the help he received from his family, they tended to rate his business literacy less, the study found.
All in all, previous polls and research suggest that the Times’ recent history – which is wider in scope and covers a newer section of Trump’s business relationships than previous revelations – could affect the public’s view of Trump’s business acumen. Whether this actually happens may depend on how much media attention the story gets. For example, will the first presidential debate on Tuesday night deal with Trump’s tax returns?
If tax returns remain in the spotlight, there is reason to believe they could harm Trump in the election. For one thing, Trump is currently an underdog for re-election and the clock is ticking – every day he doesn’t catch up is a problem. However, the malleability of voters’ views on Trump’s business record is also noteworthy, as we have reason to believe that Trump’s business cards played at least a role in his 2016 election success and may still support some of his support today.
First, Trump’s image as a businessman helped him gain support in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. In one February 2016 Gallup poll16 percent of Republicans said he was a “good businessman” as the main reason for their support. This trait was only due to his political underdog status (22 percent of respondents) as a factor in the support of GOP voters. And as of September 2015 Pew Research poll found65 percent of Republicans wanted someone with new ideas and a different approach – something that Trump dwarfed them as a businessman’s outsider.
Trump’s image as a successful businessman may also have contributed to his 2016 loss to Hillary Clinton by helping to bolster the view that he would be better at the economy. By doing national exit surveyForty-eight percent of voters said Trump would handle the economy better, compared with 46 percent for Clinton. The same exit polls found Clinton cited Trump on who would be better at managing foreign policy (by 11 points) and who would be a better commander in chief (by 3 points). In other words, voters felt Trump was best prepared to treat the economy relative to other issues.
This view was particularly widespread (and critical) among independent voters, especially in key swing states. Of the nationally independents, 48 percent preferred Trump in the economy, versus 43 percent who voted for Clinton. Independents in Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin pulled Trump over Clinton in double digits, potentially boosting Trump’s performance in three of Electoral College’s most critical states He won with incredibly tight margins.
Trumps relative strength of the economy has also shown itself in 2020, although the country’s economic conditions have been massively hit due to the coronavirus. His approval ratings for the economy have tended to outperform his ratings for other topics like crime, education, foreign policy, etc. While the strong economy in the early years of Trump’s presidency has undoubtedly contributed to how the public perceives its handling of the economic problem, including in the face of the coronavirus crisis, Trump better queried on the economy than on most issues just months after his presidency too. It’s hard to see that this was in part down to the image he sought to cultivate as an accomplished businessman.
We have no way of knowing how the public will react to the revelations in Trump’s tax returns, especially because we don’t know how quickly the news cycle will continue. However, we have some evidence that at least some voters may question Trump’s business acumen. And the perception of that acumen contributed to Trump’s election success. With The Times promising further revelations from Trump’s tax returns, Trump lagging behind in polls nationally and in most swing states, and people already starting to vote, the tax returns have real potential to prevent Trump from opposing Joe Biden or even to claim to (most likely marginally) take advantage of Trump’s current support.