What a difference a week makes. Until a week or so ago, Donald Trump and his administration had tried to downplay the coronavirus crisis, and voters largely rejected it in ABC’s last poll. After a series of get-tough measures that has Trump now discussing the COVID-19 fight as a “war,” the public has rallied to the president. A double-digit majority now approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis in the latest ABC/Ipsos survey:
A majority of Americans now approve of President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey, as the administration has issued stricter federal guidelines in recent days and the president has adopted a more public-facing role in combating the disease.
An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday reports that 55 percent of respondents approve of Trump’s management of the public health crisis, while 43 percent disapprove. The latest figures represent a boost in the president’s rating from the previous iteration of the survey, published one week ago, which showed only 43 percent approval for Trump and 54 percent disapproval.
The uptick in public sentiment comes in the wake of a variety of measures the president has taken since last Friday to combat the rapid spread of COVID-19 within the United States. Trump has been widely criticized for his initial response to the pandemic as well as his administration’s inability to quickly ramp up testing in the U.S.
Trump has declared a national emergency, expanded the European travel ban, urged people to avoid group gatherings of more than 10 people, signaled his support for dispensing checks to affected Americans, and invoked the Defense Production Act — although he has stopped short of actually triggering the statute.
The lesson here: Tone matters. The administration misread public sentiment at first, and likely thought they could lead it themselves. They wisely reconsidered and started taking a less partisan and more serious tone, as well as added daily briefings by Trump himself to outline in detail all the steps they have been taking. The dramatic turnaround in polling reflects that strategy change, and perhaps also the success the White House has had in employing a forward strategy of transparency in the crisis.
In a crisis, people want leaders to take charge. Almost as importantly, they want to see leaders take charge. That would explain the big change from one week to the next in this ABC/Ipsos poll series. It also makes mince meat of the media’s obsession over Trump’s use of “Chinese virus” this past week. Clearly, that’s not what Americans think is the most pressing issue of this crisis.
With that heightened focus comes heightened concerns, however, although it’s tough to know whether that’s from Trump’s shift or just over news of the disease’s progression. A week ago, 66% were concerned that they or someone they know would be infected with the coronavirus, with 26% very concerned. This week it’s 79% with 34% very concerned.
This might have something to do with heightened concerns, too. Look how dramatically the workplace environment has changed over the last week:
There’s a 19-point drop in people working in their normal place of employment in a week. A little over two-thirds of that drop are able to work from home, but almost a third are no longer employed as a result. Furthermore, the social-engagement cancellation level has skyrocketed from 26% to 72% in one week as well.
People are bound to feel more unsettled in this rapidly shifting crisis, which is why they respond to a display of strong leadership — and don’t respond to missing leadership. It’s possible to overdo it, which is something the White House has to consider while mulling over a national-shutdown order. This is also likely a short-term boost, a rally-around-the-leader-who’s-leading effect that will evaporate if the administration can’t find some short-term wins and longer-term success in curtailing the disease’s spread and lethality. In the meantime, though, this gives Trump significant political capital in dealing with Congress to get the kind of emergency action he needs.