Trump, however, may not fit the usual pattern. Whatever the country has pitched into is not a normal crisis or recession. And the American electorate is behaving differently from how it has behaved in the past.
For one, voters have become far less likely to switch parties or abandon their party’s candidate: Trump has fewer on-the-fence voters to compete for, but also fewer to lose. A majority of states were swing states in the 1960s; just a handful are today. Counties have become locked-in too. In the 1992 election, 1,096 were decided by a single-digit margin and just 93 were decided by a 50-point-or-higher margin. In 2016, those figures were 303 and 1,196, respectively. There are no more swing voters. There is no more purple America.
Political identity, partisan affiliation, and polarization have become stronger forces, and have started to shape the way Americans understand the country’s financial position. Presidents’ approval ratings have become more static over time: Obama did not get as big of a favorability bump from improving economic conditions as previous presidents did, and Trump polled far below where the pre-crisis jobless rate and GDP numbers would suggest. Recent polls show that if a Republican is in charge, Republicans are more likely to see a good economy and Democrats a bad economy when looking at the same economy; the partisan economic-expectations gap has soared. Polarization seems to have fueled a “dissociation” between favorability ratings and underlying economic conditions, explains the political scientist John Sides of Vanderbilt. That opens up the possibility that Republican voters will stick with Trump despite the deep, deep recession ahead.