Here’s an indisputable fact: President Donald Trump is as popular today as he has been since his first day in office.
In a new Gallup poll, 49% approve of the job Trump is doing as president while 45% disapprove, matching the highest his approval rating has ever been in Gallup surveys. A Monmouth University poll released on Monday showed Trump at 46% approval, again the best he has done in that poll in more than three years.
What accounts for Trump’s rise? Simple: His response to the coronavirus crisis.
In the Gallup poll, 60% of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing in handling the crisis while 38% disapprove of how he has done. Six in 10 independents approve of how Trump has done on the coronavirus as do more than 1 in 4 (27%) of Democrats. In the Monmouth poll, 50% say Trump has done a good job with coronavirus while 45% said he has done a bad job.
The heightened approval for how Trump has managed this crisis – particularly among independents and even Democrats – is what is pushing up his overall approval numbers, which have been largely stagnant for years.
On one level, this isn’t terribly surprising. Polling consistently shows a rallying effect around the president when major crises face the country. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, for example, President George W. Bush’s approval rating soared into the high 80s and low 90s. There’s a tendency for even partisans of the opposite party from the president to soften a bit in their perception of him as we are reminded of our common humanity and the need for our leaders to, well, lead us out of crisis.
On another, however, Trump’s high approval ratings for how he has dealt with coronavirus and how he is handling the job more broadly might well shock people who have been keeping close track of his and his administration’s performance on the pandemic.
After all, it’s quite clear that the administration simply didn’t take the threat of coronavirus seriously enough soon enough. And the testing capabilities for coronavirus in the US were decidedly slow. And Trump’s public statements have been marked by inaccurate claims (the test is “perfect”, the vaccine is coming fast, etc).
But what the Gallup and Monmouth numbers seem to suggest is that either a) people aren’t following every single statement made by Trump on this matter or b) they don’t hold him personally responsible for the hiccups along the way.
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. (Nota bene: There’s very little medical evidence to suggest Trump’s optimism is rooted in established facts.)
It’s important to keep this perspective in mind when analyzing the political impact this massive campaign of social distancing has as the medical world battles the virus. A large number of Americans are looking at Trump’s behavior not from the 50-foot or even 500-foot level but the 50,000-foot level.
And at least so far, they like what they are seeing.