Trump Approval Up During Crisis

The President seems to be enjoying a mild rally effect.

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, and Attorney General William Barr, displays his signature after signing an Executive Order to Prevent Hoarding and Price Gouging, Monday, March 23, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, and Attorney General William Barr, displays his signature after signing an Executive Order to Prevent Hoarding and Price Gouging, Monday, March 23, 2020, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The President has dithered in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, wasting weeks treating it as a public relations crisis rather than a health crisis. And his bewildering press conferences have been widely ridiculed. So, it might surprise you that most Americans seem to think he’s doing just fine.

Gallup (“President Trump’s Job Approval Rating Up to 49%“):

President Donald Trump may be enjoying a small rally in public support as the nation faces the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty-nine percent of U.S. adults, up from 44% earlier this month, approve of the job Trump is doing as president. Trump also had 49% job approval ratings — the best of his presidency – in late January and early February around the time of the Senate impeachment trial that resulted in his acquittal.

Here is the recent trend:

So, essentially fluctuation within the margin of error?

Independents’ and Democrats’ approval of Trump’s performance has increased slightly since earlier this month, tying as the best he has registered to date among each group. The president’s approval rating among Republicans was already above 90%, and remains so — but is not currently his highest on record (94% in late January).

So, while the overall and Republican numbers are essentially static, there has been a significant rise in Trump’s approval among self-identified Independents and Democrats.

Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic may be behind his higher overall approval rating. Americans give the president generally positive reviews for his handling of the situation, with 60% approving and 38% disapproving. Ninety-four percent of Republicans, 60% of independents and 27% of Democrats approve of his response.

How the hell can that possibly be?

Their guess is the same as mine: a classic “rally effect.”

Two aspects of Trump’s latest approval rating suggest a presidential approval rally effect. His rating shows a fairly sudden increase, and that increase is seen among both independents and Democrats — both highly unusual for Trump in particular.

Historically, presidential job approval has increased when the nation is under threat. 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. Bush’s 35-point increase after 9/11 is the most notable rally effect on record.

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

Significant rally effects appear to be a relic of the past as political polarization in presidential approval ratings has reached new levels. Presidential approval ratings today are characterized by consistent, exceedingly low approval ratings from opponents of the president’s party. As a result, neither Barack Obama nor Trump saw rally effects as big as those of their predecessors, because their usual opponents were reluctant to approve of them regardless of what was happening in the country.

At most, Obama’s approval rating rose by seven points after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. (He had a smaller five-point rally in support after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.)

Seven points is also the largest short-term increase in approval for Trump. His approval rating increased from 37% to 44% in February 2019 after the federal government shutdown ended and Trump touted U.S. economic gains in his State of the Union address. Trump’s job approval rating increased six points in April 2019 after special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump campaign ties with Russia officially concluded; at that time, Attorney General William Barr largely cleared the president of wrongdoing. Trump’s job approval rating also increased five points earlier this year when it was clear he would be acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial.

All that said, the most significant point about Trump’s approval ratings is how consistent they have been. He seems to have both a hard floor and a hard ceiling. And he’s been underwater his entire presidency.

RealClearPolitics:

FiveThirtyEight:

While it seems like we’ve been in this crisis for months, it’s been weeks—and the death toll is doubling every three days. No rally effect is going to sustain through that.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Donald Trump, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    Their guess is the same as mine: a classic “rally effect.”

    […]

    All that said, the most significant point about Trump’s approval ratings is how consistent they have been. He seems to have both a hard floor and a hard ceiling. And he’s been underwater his entire presidency.

    If I’m reading it right, this was a five point bump (similar, according to the article to what Obama got after Sandy Hook). Given the enormity of this event and how forward it is in the public’s mind, that little of a bump probably isn’t particularly good news for the President and his Supporters.

    It will be useful to see, for comparison, what a number of Governor’s approval ratings look like (in particular Cuomo, who’s popularity had been declining in NY for a while). That would provide some sort of comparison to understand the degree to which this may or may not be a strong rally for PoTUS.

    Likewise, given that this is a slow moving event, we’ll see how long anyone’s ratings stay where they currently are.

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  2. DrDaveT says:

    Does this poll predate the President’s musing that it might just be best to let millions die without medical care, so the rest can make some money?

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  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Saw this blog post, outlining 4 reasons to question the trump bump. One of which is the “rallying effect” that you mentioned. Give it a few days and Tiny will slump again.

    Tiny may decide that he wants to turn the economy back on, but that’s not going to happen. When voters realize that along with the death numbers, he’ll crash.

    An aside: Perhaps Hopkins could be recruited for an occasional post or cross post.

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  4. KM says:

    If the GOP keeps pushing this “go sacrifice yourself for the economy” like they have been, they’re going to see a drop in support among the 65+ voter block *real* soon.

    I’m aware that a lot of elderly folk do not consider themselves elderly but eventually it’s gonna sink in they mean *you*, FOX viewer, should be willing to perish so the young and dumb partiers on Spring Break can go back and be wage slaves. After all, if you don’t have a job and are drawing on entitlements **coughcough** SS, Medicare, pensions… **coughcough** what are you doing to make the DOW go up? No no, better to save the youth so that the rich can get decades of debt and work out them. It may not be as inflammatory as cutting SS but eventually it’s going to occur to them, “HEY!! He’s talking about us!!”

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    @KM: Speaking of SS, this is the second time since W tried it that we’ve demonstrated what a bad idea privatizing SS would have been.

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    The reality – a crisis managed by a stupid malignant narcissist – is too scary for lots of people to deal with. Sheep need a shepherd, even an incompetent one.

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  7. PJ says:

    That is a really creepy photo.

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  8. Gustopher says:

    @KM:

    After all, if you don’t have a job and are drawing on entitlements **coughcough** SS, Medicare, pensions… **coughcough** what are you doing to make the DOW go up?

    For gods sake, KM, stop coughing here! Do you want to infect everyone?

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  9. Gustopher says:

    If the bodies start piling up, and the hospitals are overcrowded, and people are dying because our medical system is overburdened, I think his ratings will decline.

    (I would be delighted if by some freak occurrence that didn’t happen and we later found out that there was some gene carried specifically in populations from Wuhan, Italy and a few other places that prompts the worst illnesses, and that for everyone else it is just a flu… I think it is far more likely that Trumps approval ratings with go down as the deaths pile up.)

    (I would also be delighted to discover that global warming is a hoax)

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  10. Kit says:

    McCain received 45.7% of the vote in the 2008 United States presidential election in the shadow of a disastrous Irak war and an economy in meltdown. Two years later the Democrats were soundly rejected. And today the unsinkable Trump is at 49%. What remains to be said about us as a people? Trump could send troops in the street to shoot randomly, and some people would rally around him during that self-created crisis, juicing his popularity. I can think of no rich, modern country whose policy has been so thoroughly repudiated by events and yet so enthusiastically embraced by its people. If you came of age politically in the time of Gingrich, you’ve know nothing but a shit storm that has now strengthened into a hurricane. And people love it!

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  11. inhumans99 says:

    Politico does note that President Trump is not enjoying the same rally around the flag bump that say Bush received post 9-11, and they do have a point. Even with his approval rating up in most polls he is lucky to get into the 50-55% approval range but actions (or a lack thereof) have consequences.

    If Bush had just passed a 2 trillion bailout package his approval ratings would probably top out at 80-90% (and in fact my understanding is that for a brief period of time post 9-11 he was at near 90% approval in the polls) so while Trump may try to brag about his approval bump the sad fact of the matter is that it is not really all that much to write home about.

    He really squandered an opportunity to look Presidential over the course of the past few days (instead he went into panic mode about the economy and it was not a good look for him, no one, including his true believers, wants to see our President freak out over this crisis, they want to see a steady hand at the wheel) so his mini-approval bump is rather anti-climatic especially pushed up against the size of the bailout.

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  12. beth says:

    @PJ: He was a tv star – you would have thought somewhere along the way he would have learned to smile like a human being.

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  13. Blue Galangal says:

    @inhumans99:

    He really squandered an opportunity to look Presidential over the course of the past few days

    Not so much squandered as he simply does not have the ability to do so. He has no capacity for empathy and no ability to behave the way human beings behave (which can rise to the level of “Presidential” when needed). He is simply not capable of pivoting to human and he never will be.

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  14. charon says:

    .From a Washington Post newsletter, excerpt:

    Poll watch

    Has this institution done a good or bad job responding to covid-19? (Monmouth, 851 adults)

    Your state’s governor
    Good: 72%
    Bad: 18%

    Federal health officials
    Good: 65%
    Bad: 24%

    The president
    Good: 50%
    Bad: 45%

    Congress
    Good: 42%
    Bad: 37%

    The media
    Good: 45%
    Bad: 43%

    Public
    Good: 38%
    Bad: 45%

    That’s right: When asked who is doing the least to get America through the coronavirus pandemic, voters pointed to themselves. Every other institution gets at least a passing grade, though the gap between approval of governors and health officials, and approval of the president, is striking. As Monmouth’s Patrick Murray points out, previous crises have seen double-digit surges of support for presidents. In this crisis, the president’s approval rating ticked up two points, thanks to a small reduction in the number of Democrats who rate him poorly.

    My emphasis added

    BTW, Jimmy Carter’s numbers soared at the start of the hostage crisis. How did that play out?

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @PJ: It really is, but the expressions are telling. You have Trump smiling his “I eat kittens and puppies for breakfast” smile, Barr as a simpering stand in for Tweedledum, and Azar (the supposed “adult” in the room?), whose expression seems to say “go ahead, tell me you wouldn’t do this for $210k/year; suuuuure you wouldn’t.”

    ETA: “(I would also be delighted to discover that global warming is a hoax)”
    So would I, but that’s not gonna happen either.

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  16. Kathy says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    Not so much squandered as he simply does not have the ability to do so.

    Agreed. he has three modes of operation:

    1) I’m great. The greatest. See how great I am? Tell me how great I am.
    2) Hate and BS dispersal
    3) It’s all the Democrat’s/Obama’s fault. Not mine! I take no responsibility. I’m great. the greatest. See how great I am? Tell me how great I am.

    There may be some overlap.

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  17. Kathy says:

    Abnother poll to keep an eye on is the generic Congressional ballot. It doens’t look good at all for Trump.

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