Poll: Trump approval remains steady despite pandemic

President Donald Trump pumps his fist while boarding Air Force One as he departs Thursday, May 21, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Trump will visit a Ypsilanti, Mich., Ford plant that has been converted to making personal protection and medical equipment. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, Americans’ views of the federal and state government response to the crisis are starting to sour — yet President Donald Trump’s personal approval rating has remained steady.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 41% of Americans approve of the president’s job performance, while 58% disapprove. That’s consistent with opinions of Trump before the pandemic, as well as throughout his more than three years in office.

The survey highlights one of the remarkable features of Trump’s tenure as president: Despite a steady drumbeat of controversies, an impeachment trial and now a historic public health crisis, few Americans have changed their views of him. He’s failed to increase his support in any measurable way, yet he also has retained the approval of his core backers, including the overwhelming majority of Republicans.

“The Trump presidency is a perfect example of the Rorschach test of politics,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist who worked for Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. “People that want to see that the president is doing a good job will see that regardless of where the chips fall. If they want to see that he’s doing a crappy job, they will see that regardless of what happens.”

Less than six months from his Election Day face-off against Democrat Joe Biden, the consistency of Trump’s support appears to leave him with the same narrow path to victory that first propelled him to the White House in 2016, even as the pandemic and resulting economic crisis upend nearly every aspect of American life.

Biden's campaign believes Trump's uneven handling of the crisis will ultimately cost him his job in November.

“The scale of the loss is staggering and it’s infuriating,” Biden said this week. “But more than that, it’s heartbreaking to think how much fear, how much loss, how much agony could have been avoided if the president hadn’t wasted so much time and taken responsibility."

The AP-NORC survey comes as the death toll in the U.S. from COVID-19 nears 100,000 people. Robust testing remains a challenge, and a vaccine is months or years away. Yet the scope of the economic toll — nearly 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March — has also increased the urgency in many states to begin reopening businesses.

Overall, the poll shows that 39% of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the virus.

Just 31% of Americans approve of the federal government's response. Forty-eight percent disapprove, including 20% of Trump's supporters — suggesting that some view the president apart from the sprawling federal apparatus he oversees.

Approval ratings for the federal government have slipped as the pandemic has stretched on, from 40% approval one month ago to 31% now. State governments continue to get higher marks from the public, though support there is slipping as well. About half of Americans — 51% — say they approve of the job being done by their states, down from 63% in April.

State governments have ultimate control over when and how restrictions on businesses, schools and public transportation are lifted. In hard hit areas like New York City, strict limitations remain in place. In other parts of the country, including Texas and Georgia, restaurants, malls and other businesses have started to welcome back customers.

Majorities of Americans continue to favor stay-at-home orders and other virus restrictions, though that support has ebbed over the last month.

Trump pushed aggressively for states to start reopening businesses almost from the start of the crisis, outraging many Democrats and frustrating even some Republicans who feared he was dismissing the advice of public health experts and struggling to show empathy with those who were sick or had lost loved ones to the virus.

He’s also embraced dangerous and controversial remedies for combating COVID-19, musing in a televised briefing that drinking bleach could help combat the virus. He announced this week that he was taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to ward off COVID-19, despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration about potentially fatal side effects.

The AP-NORC survey shows that 62% of Americans say Trump isn’t listening to health experts enough as he navigates the pandemic response. Among Democrats, 91% say he is not listening to the experts enough. Three in 10 Republicans also say he isn't listening enough, while a majority — 59% — think he is doing about right.

“He almost takes pride in doing that,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist. “That is dangerous for everyone.”

The federal government's handling of the crisis still ranks above that of Congress: Just 23% of Americans approve of the congressional leaders' response. In March, Congress approved a $2 trillion rescue plan that sent direct payments to millions of Americans and provided loans to both small businesses and large corporations. Work was expected to quickly start on an additional round of rescue money, and the Democratic-led House approved a $3 trillion plan last week. However, the bill faced no prospects of passage in the GOP-controlled Senate, and negotiations on a compromise package appear to be slow-moving.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,056 adults was conducted May 14-18 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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