A Strong Economy, Incumbency Could Mean A Trump Re-Election Victory In 2020

"It's the economy stupid" is the widely accepted political maxim that voters will punish the incumbent president who presides over a weak economy and re-elect the one who delivers strong economic growth.

That conventional wisdom will be put to the test under President Donald Trump.

Despite overseeing historically low unemployment, higher wages and solid economic growth, Trump's job approval rating has barely peaked above 45%. His numbers have been underwater with consistently higher voter disapproval since he took office. The one area where a plurality of voters has approved of Trump's presidency has been the economy.

Looking at historical trends, Trump's odds as an incumbent look good, particularly if the economy continues on track. Since 1900, there have been 19 presidents who ran for re-election and only four have lost: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover and William Taft. (Gerald Ford didn't technically lose his re-election since he was never officially elected president.)

Since the mid-20th century, every time an incumbent lost his re-election it could be attributed to an intervening economic recession or downturn. George H.W. Bush lost his 1992 re-election to Bill Clinton during a recession and tax increase. Jimmy Carter lost his re-election to Ronald Reagan in 1980 after years of high inflation and low growth. Ford lost the 1976 election to Carter against the backdrop of high unemployment and the worst economic recession, at that time, since the Great Depression.

GOP strategist Ford O'Connell anticipates that even with low approval ratings, Trump's incumbency and the state of the economy will figure more in 2020 than his likeability. "It's hard to knock off an incumbent president. The incumbent is typically favored even if he's not well-liked," he said.

"The only thing that can hurt Trump is if he has a recession," O'Connell said.

Read more from Leandra Bernstein at WJLA

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Analysis & Political Strategy