Or are we just returning to politics as usual? The ABC/Ipsos poll was among the first poll series to find an approval boost for Donald Trump in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Their latest survey, however, finds the rating for Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic underwater again — mainly because the non-Trump demos who boosted his approval rating two weeks ago have reverted back to their normal trends.
It hasn’t dropped back down to Trump’s initial rating for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but it is back underwater:
Trump’s approval for his handling of the public health crisis is now falling closer to where it was three weeks ago, after a series of polls showed some Americans rallying behind the commander-in-chief – resulting in a slight bump in approval for his response.
But as the month of April begins, Trump’s approval for his management of the coronavirus is now under-water, 47-52%. Approval is down from 55% in the poll released on March 20, and closer to where it was in the March 13 poll, when it was 43%. …
Consistent with this, in the new ABC News/Ipsos poll, perceptions of Trump among ideologues also appear back closer to where it’s long been, with most reverting back to their partisan tribes. Only 9% of Democrats approve of the president’s handling of coronavirus, which is less than a third of the 30% of Democrats who said the same in the poll two weeks ago. Meanwhile, 91% of Republicans approve now, which is on par with the March 20 poll.
This trend might still be an outlier, and since it’s a tracking poll of sorts, RealClearPolitics doesn’t use it for its aggregation. At the moment, the RCP tracker on job approval specific to coronavirus is positive, 50/46.7, with no other pollsters yet showing a negative result over the last two weeks. Trump’s worst rating in the RCP aggregation on coronavirus is the 50/50 from Harvard-Harris, and that was a survey taken from March 24-26, when Trump’s ratings were on the way up. (Trump’s current RCP average for overall approval is 47.4/50.3, still among the best of his presidency.)
The demographic shift in this poll reminds us once again that Trump has hard floors and fairly hard ceilings on approval. Most people have long since made up their minds about Trump, which means that the improvement in those demographics was always going to be difficult to sustain. Democrats like Nancy Pelosi have become more outspoken in their criticism of Trump’s coronavirus handling again after being set back on their heels for a couple of weeks, reminding those voters whose side they’re on, politically speaking.
Some of this might also be a function of the dawning realization that this will be a long-haul crisis. The same 89% are concerned that they or someone they know will catch COVID-19, but two weeks ago that split between 34% being very concerned and 45% being somewhat concerned. In this iteration, 50% are very concerned and 39% are somewhat concerned. Nine out of every ten Americans report that their lives have been disrupted, and that is an explosive situation for those in charge at the time. The anger that generates can easily get directed right at them, rally effects be damned.
They also don’t have much hope that this will go back to normal soon, and certainly not on Trump’s schedule at the moment. Only 13% now think they can return to normal on May 1, with another 31% thinking that will come on June 1. Forty-one percent think it will take to the end of summer or longer. Those are not circumstances which lend themselves to enthusiastic support of the status quo, even if the extant crisis is producing a rally effect at the same time. One can only “rally” for so long.
If Trump wants to sustain his approval ratings, at least on the coronavirus, he has to remember how he got there in the first place, as I wrote at The Week. Petty food fights with Democrats will only hasten his erosion among the demos that gave him his boost:
At the time of the survey, Trump had only just started to change his public messaging on COVID-19. He had previously chosen to minimize the potential effects of the pandemic and his approval rating sagged even further than normal as a result. The White House then shifted its messaging to focus on the crisis as a “war,” and Trump (mostly) dropped the minimizing rhetoric to speak in more stark terms about the virus.
To some extent, Trump’s polling surge is at least in part a rally effect. In a crisis, voters instinctively want and need leaders to react well. However, actions taken by Trump shortly after his substantial pivot has contributed to that impulse and will matter to the endurance of his polling surge. His leadership on the historic $2.2 trillion relief bill helped bridge a partisan divide when negotiations broke down between Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi, perhaps mostly by signaling openness to their demands for transparency and accountability on corporate assistance. Trump also made an effort to work with Democratic governors in California and New York, with Democratic Govs. Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo offering praise for his efforts — at times, anyway.
To put it more directly, Trump had succeeded until this crisis by being the president of his base and keeping them energized. This past month, Trump focused on coming across as everyone’s president, and got rewarded for it. Sending snarky public letters to Chuck Schumer might be satisfying — heck, we know it is — but it’s not going to sustain the approval ratings he got by rising above it in March.