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Trump’s approval rating is rising slightly amid the coronavirus pandemic

New polls find Americans think governors are handling the coronavirus well — Trump, less so.

President Trump at the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 23, 2020.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Sean Collins is a news editor with Vox’s politics and policy team. He’s helped cover elections, Congress, and both the Biden and Trump administrations. Previously, Sean was Vox’s weekend editor.

Amid a dramatic public health and economic crisis over the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump’s approval rating is rising — though he’s still lagging far behind state and local officials in the US.

According to two new polls — one from Monmouth University and one from CBS/YouGov — the president received better marks than most institutions and officials; only health care providers, public health experts, and state and local officials were better rated.

Monmouth’s polling found 50 percent of US adults believe Trump is doing a “good job” responding to the coronavirus, with 45 percent saying he’s done a “bad job.” The poll has a 3.4 percentage point margin of error, one large enough that most Americans could actually disapprove of the president’s performance. YouGov’s pollsters found 53 percent of US adults approved of the president’s response, with a 2.3 percentage point margin of error — again, a margin that muddles whether the majority of the US approves of his work.

The Trump administration’s response has, overall, been controversial. It has been criticized for acting too slowly once it learned of the threat the virus posed, for eliminating public health positions meant to guard against pandemics, and Trump himself has been censured for spreading misinformation. As Vox’s German Lopez noted, Trump has given the public incorrect statements on a number of important things, including, “whether the outbreak will get worse, how long a vaccine will take to make, whether testing is widely available, and how long social distancing guidelines will remain in effect, among other examples.”

Meanwhile, the work of state and local officials — from mayors to governors — has been more widely approved of, something reflected in the polling. In Monmouth’s work, 72 percent of respondents said their governors are doing a good job; 68 percent said state and local officials got their response right in YouGov’s survey.

These numbers would suggest more bipartisan support for these leaders than Trump enjoys. For instance — according to YouGov’s data — 91 percent of Republicans see the president as handling the coronavirus crisis well, while 54 percent of independents and only 22 percent of Democrats feel the same.

Nationally, Republicans and Democrats only agreed on medical professionals being trustworthy sources of information. Ninety percent of Republicans said they trusted public health officials, while 92 percent of Democrats said the same. Trump, on the other hand, was a trusted source only for Republicans — 90 percent believe he is delivering accurate information, while 86 percent of Democrats said he can’t be trusted.

The president’s approval rating has gone up slightly amid the pandemic — Monmouth’s pollsters tracked a 2 percentage point increase compared to February 2020 and a 7 percentage point increase from March 2019, when Trump’s campaign was under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller over its ties to Russia.

Trump’s polling increase from last month is within the poll’s margin of error, and, as Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray has noted, does not reflect the stark polling boosts presidents usually see amid crises, like President George W. Bush’s 30 percentage point approval rating boost as he worked to respond to 9/11.

“Trump has cast himself as a wartime president, but the small increase in his current job rating falls far short of the ‘rally round the flag’ effect past presidents have experienced,” Murray said in a statement.

Americans are very worried about the coronavirus

Part of this seems to be due to the stark partisan divide in views on the president that have limited his approval ratings throughout his presidency. But the polling suggests Trump has not been able to win over Democrats and independents in the way Bush was able to, not just because they did not like him before but because they don’t trust him now — and because many appear to take a dim view of where the US is heading.

For instance, 54 percent of Monmouth’s respondents said the country is on the wrong track, a sentiment 57 percent of YouGov’s respondents agreed with. And, as far as the coronavirus is concerned, those polled did not seem to be more optimistic about their individual lives.

Monmouth found only 12 percent were not concerned the virus would infect them or someone in their families, and only 25 percent were confident the US would be able to limit Covid-19 cases in the next few weeks. More Republicans were confident about limiting the coronavirus than Democrats, but still, most Republicans (56 percent) weren’t confident it would be limited. And the university’s pollsters also found Americans of all political leanings unsure about the public’s ability to handle the crisis created by the virus; overall, 38 percent of respondents said the American public is doing a good job dealing with the virus, with 39 percent of Republicans, 50 percent of independents, and 45 percent of Democrats saying their fellow Americans are doing a bad job.

All of this underscores why it is necessary for the Trump administration to take the sorts of action that will raise the president’s approval ratings and lower the percentage of Americans who do not trust him. Not so that he can have better numbers — something he has been clear he likes to have, even if he must inflate them himself — but because his constituents are worried and rightly so. The US needs a figure at the national level who will dispense accurate information and who demonstrates an ability to take decisive, evidence-based action to limit the damage the pandemic will do.

Trump has not yet shown an ability to do so, even using his Fox News town hall Tuesday to again make unhelpful comparisons between the coronavirus and the flu. He also suggested — against expert advice — that social distancing should be scaled back to try to help the economy, and spent some time attacking Democrats and windmills.

Until Trump can be a reliable source of science-based information, Americans will continue to look to their local officials, rather than to their president, for reassurance.

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