Commercial real estate professionals are split on their assessment of President Donald Trump’s performance in the wake of the longest-ever federal government shutdown and with another potential one looming, according to the results of an NREI survey administered between Jan. 28 and Feb. 7.
Roughly half of respondents (50.3 percent) said they approve of the president’s overall job performance, while 45.5 percent said they disapproved of it. Another 4.1 percent were undecided about what approval rating they would give president Trump. The approval rating, however, was up from the last time NREI readers were asked to rate the president’s job performance in June 2018 when 43.4 percent approved.
When it came to the issue of the shutdown, 45.7 percent of survey respondents indicated that, on a scale of 1 to 10 measuring who was most responsible for the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, they would give the president a 10. The president’s average score on the issue came to 7.4.
Another 35.7 percent of respondents gave a 10 to Congressional Democrats, while Congressional Republicans got a 10 on the blame scale from 19.7 percent of survey takers. Overall, Congressional Democrats got a score of 6.54 and Congressional Republicans a score of 6.30.
This NREI survey received 1,380 responses. In terms of political affiliation, 42.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 38.1 percent said they were independents, 15.9 percent were Democrats and 3.7 percent identified as “other.” The average age of respondents was 56. (Those political demographics are similar to previous NREI surveys.)
Not surprisingly, when drilling down by party affiliation, the numbers varied dramatically. Respondents that identified as Republicans were more likely to point to Congressional Democrats as responsible (7.99) rather than the president (5.83) or Congressional Republicans (5.59). Respondents that identified as Democrats, meanwhile, overwhelmingly blamed the president (9.35) and Republicans in Congress (7.53) and laid little blame at he feet of Congressional Democrats (3.59). Finally, for self-identified independents or other, the numbers were more balanced between Trump (7.57), Congressional Republicans (6.50) and Congressional Dems (6.22).
Only about a quarter (24.5 percent) of NREI survey respondents said the shutdown had an impact on the commercial real estate industry. In all, 43 percent said the shutdown had no impact, and 32.5 percent were uncertain about its effects on commercial real estate.
In an open comments section, industry insiders pointed to the overall impact of the shutdown on the U.S. economy eventually rippling down to commercial real estate, missed rent and mortgage payments by furloughed federal workers and slowdowns in financing approvals involving federal agencies like HUD. “Uncertainty is death in our business,” one respondent wrote. “It causes people to go looking for safer investments.” Another noted: “It was bad for the furloughed workers, bad for the economy, creates greater uncertainty and nothing was resolved!” A third reader wrote that the shutdown impacted the commercial real estate industry in “almost every way you can imagine. In addition to causing deep anxiety in all the markets, the shutdown resulted in delays and, in some cases, cancellation of various real estate transactions. Surely the cost to the overall U.S. economy will also have a long-term impact.”
Still, more than half of respondents (53.3 percent) continue to approve of the president’s handling of the economy (up from 45.4 percent the last time the survey was conducted), while 34.3 percent disapprove of it. The rest of the survey takers (12.4 percent) indicated they felt neutral on the issue.
More than half of respondents (52.8 percent) also approve of the tax reform legislation signed into law in 2017, in spite of recent questions arising about how much the tax reform helped the U.S. economy. Another 32.8 percent of respondents disapproved of the legislation, while 14.3 percent said they were neutral.
NREI readers felt slightly less positive about the president’s efforts to impose more trade tariffs on other countries, most notably China, with 44.1 percent indicating approval and 45.5 percent indicating disapproval of the tariff policies. That’s down from 58.1 percent that approved of trade tariffs in July.
But more than half of respondents also approved of the president’s plan for a wall on the U.S. southern border and of his immigration plan—with a 51.1 percent approval rating on both issues. About 44.2 percent disapproved of building a border wall and 43.8 percent disapproved of the president’s overall immigration policy.
Respondents felt immigration was the third most important issue on the president’s legislative agenda. The still missing infrastructure improvement plan came in first, with 62.3 percent of respondents indicating it should be a priority, followed by healthcare reform, which got the vote from 53.1 percent of respondents. Immigration was chosen as the most important issue by 50.1 percent of survey takers—more than double the number that identified it as important issue when NREI first began conducting this survey in 2017.
Talking about the president’s performance in an open comments section, respondents had this to say: “The anti-immigrant stance will be a drag on future growth,” one wrote. “I think the weakening of relationships with allies is starting to hurt foreign student enrollment in the U.S., which will affect student housing demand. Another government shutdown could really cause economic problems where, if this is the only one, we will get by with only a small hit to growth.” Another noted: “He’s done some useful things, but he doesn’t really have a clue what he’s doing. Which is a good thing, because the things he really seems to want to do—the wall, which is a waste of time and money, and immigration restrictions, which ultimately mean fewer users and builders of real estate—are directly harmful. And his stupid trade policies are hurting the overall business climate. He’s maybe better than the Democrats might be, but that doesn’t mean he’s any good at all.”
On the other side of the spectrum, there were readers who were largely satisfied with the president’s performance. It’s “positive from an economic development standpoint, which will continue to strengthen fundamental macro-level occupancy and rent growth, and provide upward pressure on underlying commercial real estate incomes and values going forward in the absence of any meaningful interest rate hikes, which may be inevitable in the next one to three years,” one wrote. Another noted that “private tax reform was good, and job growth has been excellent, as well as [a] positive trend in foreign relations. Border security has to happen. The president is often his own worst enemy with his message, but the actions are tremendous.”
A plurality of respondents also said they supported Trump's overall legislative agenda and his agenda as it pertains to the commercial real estate industry.