Photo: Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Every incumbent president since FDR who has avoided a recession in the lead-up to an election year was re-elected.

Why it matters: More Americans are saying they approve of President Trump's handling of the economy, even though they disapprove overall. 51% of people disapprove of Trump's job performance in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll out last week, but 51% approve of him on the economy. If he loses, it would be a big break with recent history.

The 2020 election is about 18 months away, and key metrics show the economy is surprising to the upside.


  • The economy grew 2.3% during Trump's first full year in office, and it hit 2.9% in 2018 — slightly less than the 3% the White House promised, but still the fastest annual pace since 2015.
  • Unemployment is at a 50-year low, and the stretch of job growth that began under Obama has continued for a record 103 months.
  • By the Federal Reserve's own guidance, low interest rates will stay low for a while longer. (In fact, inflation is so tepid, traders are betting interest rates will be even lower in coming months.)

Yes, but: While recession fears have subsided, there's no guarantee that Trump's strong economy will keep pace through 2020. Among the big unknowns, for instance, are the potential economic effects of heightened U.S.-China trade tensions.

  • Flashback: What had been an otherwise impressive stretch for economic growth during the first half of Jimmy Carter's presidency began to unravel in 1980 — the same year Carter unsuccessfully sought a second term.

The other side: Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls are saying the booming economy isn't touching all corners of the country. Many are pointing to income inequality, while others are tapping into the ways in which the capitalist system has failed.

  • For instance, Bernie Sanders told ABC last week "the economy is doing well ... but that does not mean that for millions of working people they are not struggling economically today."
  • John Hickenlooper told Axios at the Milken Conference that "just because you have record low unemployment ... does not mean the country is better off."

The bottom line: "Many voters are willing to forgive the noise (political incorrectness, tweets, Mueller) as long as the signal (economy) stays strong,” e-mails lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, whose quarterly slide deck tipped us to this trend.

Go deeper

Florida fully lifts coronavirus restrictions on restaurants

Photo: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Friday the state will completely reopen its economy, allowing restaurants at operate full capacity and barring localities from ordering businesses to close.

Why it matters: The state became one of the world's epicenters for the virus in July, forcing DeSantis to pause its first round of reopening.

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Eyeing the end of gas-powered cars

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Gasoline-powered cars may be going the way of the woolly mammoth, even if it will take decades to replace them and seems hard to fathom today.

The big picture: Internal combustion engines (ICEs) have powered automobiles for more than 100 years. But the shift to electric vehicles, slow to materialize at first, is now accelerating due to tightening government policies, falling costs and a societal reckoning about climate change.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tests positive for coronavirus

Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and his wife, Pamela, both tested positive for coronavirus, his office announced on Friday.

The state of play: The Northams were tested after one of their staff "who works closely within the couple's living quarters" tested positive. The governor is asymptomatic, while his wife is "experiencing mild symptoms." They plan to isolate at home for 10 days.

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