When Chad Johansen voted for Donald Trump in 2016, he hoped he was picking someone who could help small-business owners compete with bigger companies. But that hasn’t happened, and now the 26-year-old owner of NH iPhone Repair feels what he calls “Trumpgret.”
The Republican president has done little to address health care issues for a small employer, he said, and the Manchester man remains on edge about how Trump’s tariffs could affect his business, which employs fewer than 10 people. Beyond that, he said, unrelenting news about bigotry and racism in the Trump administration is “a turnoff.”
“The president’s supposed to be the face of the United States of America,” said Johansen, who voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2012. “And supposed to make everyone be proud to be an American and stand up for everyone who is an American. And I don’t feel that President Trump’s doing that. I feel like it’s chaos.”
That sentiment is concerning for Trump as he travels to New Hampshire this week for a reelection rally. The state, which he lost by about 2,700 votes in 2016, is doing well economically, at least when using broad measures. But beneath the top-line data are clear signs that the prosperity is being unevenly shared, and when the tumult of the Trump presidency is added to the mix, the state’s flinty voters may not be receptive to his appeals.
Trouble in the bond market raised fresh concerns about a recession on the horizon.
An August University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll found that 42 percent of New Hampshire adults approve of Trump while 53 percent disapprove. The poll also showed that 49 percent approve of Trump’s handling of the economy and 44 percent disapprove.
How New Hampshire receives the president on Thursday will offer a fresh test of whether people will give credit to Trump for the state’s economy, base their decision on social issues or make their vote a referendum on the president’s character.
“I’m not sure any great tax policy that Trump has envisioned or created has helped it,” said Tom Rath, a longtime Republican National Convention delegate and former New Hampshire attorney general who backed Republican John Kasich for president in 2016. “I think the climate is good. We’re flourishing in large part because Massachusetts is flourishing.”
At 2.4 percent, New Hampshire’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May was among the lowest in the nation. But wage growth is significantly below national gains. Average hourly earnings rose a scant 1.1 percent in New Hampshire in 2018, lagging the 3 percent gain nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In other ways, like the home ownership rate — first in the nation — and median household income — seventh in the U.S. — census data shows the state is thriving.
Ahead of the president’s visit, his campaign held an event in Bedford, New Hampshire, on Tuesday to applaud the success of the economy under Trump, singling out the low unemployment rate. Joblessness in New Hampshire was also relatively low at the end of the Obama administration, a sign that Trump inherited an improving economy.
Much of Trump’s rhetoric in 2016 was designed to appeal to Midwestern swing states where a platform of raising tariffs, protecting workers and restricting immigration resonated, Dartmouth College political scientist Dean Lacy said.
New Hampshire transitioned faster than Rust Belt states as it went from a manufacturing economy to a high-tech economy in the 1980s and 1990s, Lacy said.
“(Trump) doesn’t have an economic strategy that’s designed to win New Hampshire,” Lacy said. “But also one that’s not going to necessarily lose New Hampshire.”
New Hampshire’s four Electoral College votes are far below that of key swing states like Florida, Wisconsin and Michigan, but its influence can prove powerful in close election years like 2000, when George W. Bush’s victory in the state gave him the edge needed to win the White House.
David Bates, a 26-year-old construction worker, said there has been “remarkable growth under President Trump.” And when it comes to that growth, Trump should “at least partially, definitely,” get credit.
And Robert Burrows, a 34-year-old tire technician, sees a raise and a competing job offer as evidence that the “awesome” economy has helped him.
“Trump isn’t somebody I’d want to marry to my sister or my mother,” said Burrows, who originally supported Republican Ben Carson in 2016. “However, that’s not what I want him in office for.”
Others feel the economic boasting that can sometimes be a trademark of Trump and his allies is undeserved.
“I don’t see where he’s helped me,” Gary West, a 71-year-old retired steel fabricator who now works as a school bus driver. “Maybe the guy that’s got a million dollars he’s helped. But I don’t feel like he’s helped me at all.”
For all the credit to go to Trump “doesn’t make any sense,” said Amanda Gunter, a 34-year-old New Hampshire Democrat, who worries that the economy she describes as “doing well” could help Trump win another term in White House.
“I also think that we’re in a bubble,” Gunter said. “And I think it’s going to burst because I know Trump is rolling back regulations and that has me concerned. I also think the economy was doing well when Obama was in office. And I think that our good economy is because of things that Obama did, not Trump.”
The economy may also not have the same draw for voters as it has had in the past.
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for reelection in 2020, described the New Hampshire economy as “going well” in a recent interview. But she said that while Trump has “talked about the importance of the economy,” the top concern Shaheen said she hears from people in New Hampshire is based around health care.
“The economy and jobs are always important,” Shaheen said. “But people can’t feel secure about the future of their families, even though they have a good job, if they’re worried about whether they’re going to have health care when they need it.”
Gino Brogna, a 57-year-old chef manager, described himself as a Republican “by nature,” though he isn’t “solely stuck to it.” He didn’t like Democrat Hillary Clinton and recalls feeling as though his 2016 vote for Trump was “something that was necessary.”
It doesn’t feel necessary for him again.
“I don’t think that he’s true to his word on a lot of things,” Brogna said of Trump. “I wouldn’t vote for him again. That’s not going to happen.”