In Brief

Why are US voters backing Donald Trump over coronavirus?

President’s approval ratings soaring despite botched attempt to stem the pandemic

Donald Trump’s approval ratings have soared in recent weeks despite widespread criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a series of new polls have found.

Gallup polling shows 60% of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the crisis versus 34% who disapprove, with another poll from Ipsos revealing a narrower but still positive margin.

Trump’s overall approval ratings have also seen an uptick in the last two weeks with FiveThirtyEight’s tracker rising 2 points and Gallup up to 49%, the highest of his presidency.

“The numbers have proved head-scratching for the president’s critics and political opponents who have castigated his handling of the pandemic and loose rhetoric,” reports The Daily Telegraph.

America is fast emerging as a battlefront against the virus, due in large part say Trump’s critics to his slow response to the crisis. The number of cases now exceeds 70,000, while US stock markets have plummeted and unemployment surges as the economy goes into lockdown.

Yet still support for the president grows.

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Speaking to psephologists “well versed in the numbers and Republican political insiders who know Trump”, The Telegraph says the explanation behind the emerging pattern in the polls “is a combination of historic trends, changes in behaviour, clever use of the media and a frightened nation”.

Gallup says “historically, presidential job approval has increased when the nation is under threat” citing Franklin D. Roosevelt after Pearl Harbour and George W. Bush after 9/11.

“During these rallies, independents and supporters of the opposing party to the president typically show heightened support for the commander in chief,” the polling firm adds.

“Yet, Trump hasn’t behaved like a traditional president in a crisis moment. At times, he’s acted more like our national id, telling Americans what they may want to hear, even if those claims are false or are considered downright dangerous by public health experts,” says political reporter Lisa Lerer in the New York Times.

Whether he is able to stick to his promise to have America back up and open for business by Easter “may not matter, at least not politically” Lerer adds. “The polling shows that despite Trump’s dubious comments, Americans blame the virus rather than the president for our current situation. At least, for now.”

CNN says “the average person seems to broadly believe that Trump is doing the best that he can in a very difficult circumstance. And that what he says on a daily basis matters less than the fact he is out there saying it, and assuring the country that this will all be over soon”.

Despite the mini surge, Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told USA Today that the rally is actually deceptive and “extraordinarily weak compared to other modern presidents”.

“Incredibly, Trump still hasn’t crossed the 50% mark in job approval – a much more important measure than public views about Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Why is that? Americans either love Trump or hate Trump, and the vast majority will never change their evaluation.”

With America split down the middle, the outcome in November’s presidential election depends in large part on how long the coronavirus lockdown lasts and whether the economy, the strength of which the president has made “his political calling card”, according to the BBC, rebounds in time.

“As his popularity is mostly a function of his office, the president can afford to sit tight, defer to public health wisdom and savour the free media coverage until November. At worst, he would be following the course of almost every other world leader,” says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times.

“Instead, he seems set on the most extraordinary gamble with his electoral prospects, and the health of his nation,” Ganesh adds.

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