US President Donald Trump’s approval ratings have hit an all-time high during the coronavirus crisis, with a majority of Americans saying they approve of his handling of the pandemic.
The development – evident across a range of recent polls – has astounded Trump’s critics who expected the American public to judge him harshly for his often misleading and erratic response to the outbreak.
The country’s two most closely-watched polling aggregators both show Trump recording his best approval ratings since he took office. RealClearPolitics puts him at 46.3 per cent approval and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight at 44.6 per cent.
Trump’s approval ratings have moved within a narrow range throughout his presidency, but have reached as low as 36 per cent in the past.
This week’s respected Gallup poll showed Trump on 49 per cent approval, the equal highest of his presidency and five points up from the previous week.
The poll showed that 60 per cent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis with just 38 per cent disapproving.
There is still a strong element of partisanship to perceptions of Trump’s handling of the crisis, but it is less evident than on virtually every other issue. Indeed, the factor that has helped push up Trump’s ratings is higher-than-usual support from Democrats.
Twenty-seven per cent of Democrats say they approve of Trump’s response to the virus, compared to 94 per cent of Republicans and 60 per cent of independents according to Gallup.
After initially delegating responsibility to Vice-President Mike Pence, Trump has played an increasingly visible role in his administration’s response to the virus, appearing on television daily at lengthy White House briefings.
It is unclear how long Trump’s polling bump will last. Polls tend to be lagging indicators, meaning they reflect events from the recent past rather than the present.
Many of the polls were conducted last week, when Trump adopted a noticeably more serious tone when discussing the pandemic. This week he has again reverted to minimising the virus and has flagged a return to normal life by Easter, an idea vigorously opposed by public health experts.
Rather than being surprised by Trump’s popularity boost, some long-time poll watchers say it should be even bigger. In times of national emergency, citizens tend to support their leaders – a phenomenon known as the “rally around the flag” effect.
“Every president from Franklin Roosevelt through George W. Bush saw their approval rating surge at least 10 points after a significant national event of this kind,” Gallup said in its analysis of its latest poll.
Bush’s received a massive 35 point increase in his approval after the September 11 attacks.
Indeed, leaders around the world have seen their popularity soar since the coronavirus outbreak.
A Harris Interactive poll this week found that 51 per cent of French citizens say they have confidence in President Emmanuel Macron, a 13-point increase compared to the previous month and the highest since January 2018.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week achieved a net approval rating of +20, the highest since he assumed office. Between February and March, approval of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte surged from 44 per cent to over 70 per cent.
Much will depend on the state of the economy by the November election. The simple lesson from past elections is that bad economic results represent bad news for incumbent presidents. This helps explain Trump’s urgency to get commercial activity flowing again quickly.
Polling analyst Nate Silver this week published a series of models that found a mild recession would make Trump an underdog in November while a 2008-style crash would likely lead to a landslide loss.
“Frankly, this isn’t that complicated,” Silver concluded. “The better off America is by November, the more likely he is to be re-elected.”