As he starts his fourth year in office, President Trump has been impeached by the House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate impeachment trial remains in limbo as Republicans and Democrats wrangle over its terms and scope. Amid all that, NREI conducted its sixth survey gauging the commercial real estate industry's sentiments on the president.
Overall, 48.5 percent of respondents indicated they approve of the president’s performance vs. 44.0 percent who disapprove. This approval rating was roughly in line with the last time we ran this survey, in late January/early February of 2019. After sitting below 30 percent in our first two surveys, Trump’s approval among NREI readers has ranged between 43.4 percent and 52.8 in the four subsequent tallies. Overall, Trump’s earned a net approval rating and a net disapproval rating three times each in the six times we’ve conducted our surveys. It’s been positive three of the last four times we’ve held the survey. Numbers were similar for Trump’s overall legislative agenda, with 47.0 percent approving and 43.2 percent disapproving of it.
The survey, which was administered between late December and early January, garnered 749 responses. The average age of the respondents was roughly 56.5 years old, with 40.6 percent identifying as Republicans, 17.0 percent Democrats, 39.7 percent independents and 2.7 percent identifying as “other.” (The survey was concluded just as news was breaking on the Trump-authorized airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. General Qassem Soleimani. So any shifts on the president’s approval in reaction to the rising Mideast tensions was not captured by this poll.)
We also asked readers about their view of the impeachment proceedings. In all, 47.0 percent said they approve of the impeachment, while 53.0 percent disapprove of it. However, a clear majority (70.6 percent) said the impeachment will have no impact on commercial real estate. Another 23.7 percent said it will have “somewhat of an impact” and 5.8 percent expect “great impact.” In terms of the pending Senate trial, 56.2 percent of NREI survey respondents said Trump should not be removed from office, while 43.8 percent are in favor of the president’s removal.
In the open-ended comments section, some readers maintained that the president’s performance has been “excellent” and “the best we have had since President Reagan’s term.” Others, however, said it has been an “embarrassment,” calling his actions “unethical” and “criminal.” “I would ask the simple question. Would you do business with him or work for him?” wrote one respondent. That “should be the direction of the answer, not the short-sighted view of your net worth or stock portfolio in the moment.”
Views on the president’s legislative agenda
The numbers were more in the president’s favor when it came to Trump’s handling of the economy and the impact of his policies on the commercial real estate industry in particular. More than half of respondents (54.1 percent) approve of his handling of the economy, compared to 26.9 percent who disapprove of it. Trump’s approval on the handling of the economy has been above 50 percent in three of the five surveys where we’ve asked that question. Meanwhile “disapprove” number in the current survey is at its lowest level in the surveys we’ve conducted.
Similarly, 52.6 percent of respondents approve of the impact of Trump’s legislative efforts as it pertains to the commercial real estate industry, vs. just 14.9 percent who disapprove of his agenda and 32.4 percent who feel neutral on the issue. That number nearly matches the high of 53.1 percent registered in our February 2018 survey on this question and is up slightly from the 48.6 percent a year ago.
In addition, 49.4 percent continue to approve of the tax reforms that have been administered by Trump’s administration, while 32.3 percent disapprove and 18.3 percent remain neutral. Those numbers have been fairly consistent in the past four surveys. Support for tax reform peaked at 57.5 percent in February 2018, but approval has stayed near the 50 percent mark in the past three surveys, with disapproval sitting below 40 percent consistently.
In the open comments section, tax reform, the creation of Opportunity Zones and the president’s insistence that the Fed keep interest rates low were cited by readers as the policies that have had the most influence on the commercial real estate industry so far.
On the president’s overall impact on the commercial real estate industry, respondents’ views ranged from “Trump is fundamentally a real estate guy. His performance has been great for CRE” to “His tax reform and blatant threats to the Fed have been positive for CRE, but both have been unneeded and highly embarrassing. His trade wars have cost the U.S. consumer and the impacts to CRE are yet to be seen (especially to retail)” to “manipulating prices with low interest rates is a short-term fix to get him re-elected, but it isn’t solving our core issues.”
Slightly more than half of respondents (55.3 percent) disapprove of how the president has tried to influence the Federal Reserve’s decisions on interest rates, while 25.7 percent approve of his efforts.
Respondents continue to point to infrastructure improvement as the top issue the Trump administration should focus on. (Readers could select up to three issues or add additional ones as a write-in option.) Infrastructure came in at 63.1 percent—a similar level as in the five previous NREI Trump surveys.
However, despite a lot of talk over the past three years, there’s been very little movement on an actual plan. In all, 64.7 percent said they don’t have enough information on the president’s promised infrastructure improvement plan to have an opinion on it. (Another 28.6 percent said they approve of the plan, and 6.7 percent disapprove of it.) Those numbers have been fairly steady in our surveys.
Healthcare reform (56.6 percent) was the second most prevalent issue identified—the highest figure for that issue in the six surveys NREI has conducted. Its importance has steadily ticked up in the past three years, starting at a base of 43.1 percent in August, 2017.
Shifting views on trade, immigration
Meanwhile, a plurality of respondents (46.2 percent) also disapprove of the trade tariffs Trump has imposed, while 39.6 percent approve of the tariffs. Sentiment on this question has shifted some over time. In 2018, nearly three-fifths of respondents said they disapproved of tariffs, while only 29.6 percent approved. A year ago, sentiment was split almost equally between those who approved and those who disapproved of these measures. In the current survey, sentiment was slightly more negative.
In a related shift, the amount of respondents pointing to trade deals as one of the top three issues for the administration has grown. Only 6.9 percent of respondents in August 2017 thought this was a top issue. Today that level is at 28.0 percent.
Immigration/border control is the issue that has seen the most variance in our surveys. Back in 2017, fewer than 20 percent of respondents thought it was a top-three issue for the president. By February 2019, the number had spiked all the way to 50.1 percent. In the current survey the number has retreated some, down to 42.7 percent.
Meanwhile, readers moved to a slight net negative opinion on the president’s immigration position in this year’s survey (47.7 percent disapprove vs. 45.4 percent approve) vs. a net positive opinion in February 2019 (51.1 percent approve vs. 43.8 percent disapprove). That sentiment was mirrored on the idea of building a border wall, with 43.2 percent approving (down from 51.1 percent last year) and 47.9 percent disapproving (up from 44.2 percent).
A major fallout from tighter immigration policies for the commercial real estate industry is that there are fewer construction workers available for development projects. According to one respondent, the president’s “anti-immigrant stance has reduced available construction labor; tariffs are impacting materials costs.” “His immigration policies have limited the labor pool necessary for construction, maintenance, renovation,” echoed another. “His climate ignorance threatens all of us with more unstable weather, heat and storm extremes. Creates an atmosphere of instability for real estate. He should be building bridges and housing to get people off the streets, instead of his ludicrous and ineffective wall.”
Financial regulations and sovereign debt are two other issues where views shifted over time. In our original Trump survey, more than 30 percent of respondents thought financial regulation reform should be a priority. In the most recent survey, the figure had dropped to 17.9 percent. Roughly 40 percent (39.4) also said there are not enough details on proposed changes to the Dodd-Frank regulations to form an opinion on their impact, while 36.7 percent approve of the planned revamp and 23.9 percent disapprove of it.
Meanwhile, in 2017 only 17.9 percent said the level of sovereign debt should be a focus for the President. That number has now risen to 33.7 percent of respondents.