WaPo/ABC poll: Trump approval sharply up, confidence high in coronavirus outbreak

The new Washington Post/ABC survey becomes the latest polling series to show Americans rallying to Donald Trump in the coronavirus crisis. The president gets the highest overall approval rating of his term, and a majority now approve of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two-thirds of Americans have some or high confidence in the government’s ability to manage it, even while 77% say their lives have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic:

Today, weeks into the crisis, Trump receives more positive ratings for the way he is handling the pandemic and his overall duties as the nation’s chief executive.

His job approval rating stands at 48 percent positive and 46 percent negative among all adults, up from 43 percent positive and 53 percent negative in February. That is the highest approval rating of his presidency in Post-ABC surveys and the first time his overall rating is net positive.

On the specific question of how well he has dealt with the coronavirus problem, 51 percent say they approve and 45 percent disapprove. A CNN-SSRS poll taken about three weeks ago found only 41 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving.

How do we know that the rally effect has boosted Trump’s approval ratings? For one thing, his initial response gets a 38/58 on whether he acted fast enough. His current positive approval ratings suggest that voters don’t care much about rehashing that — as long as Trump continues to focus seriously on the pandemic now. Also, the boost in this iteration comes from Democrats and other demographics not normally inclined to support Trump:

The president’s approval ratings have risen in part because he is judged more favorably by Democrats than he was in the Post-ABC February poll. Then, just 4 percent of Democrats approved of his overall performance, while the new poll shows 17 percent offering a positive rating. Trump also received double-digit increases in approval among adults with high school degrees or less formal education, among white women without college degrees and among those with household incomes of $50,000 or less.

The implications for that are significant in the post-crisis period, assuming we get to a post-crisis period before the election. Some of those voters might honestly reassess their earlier opposition to Trump, but most of them will go home, politically speaking. They’re rallying to Trump now because they (and we) all need him to do his best and be a confident and competent “war president.” The more Trump succeeds at it, the more Trump might improve incrementally with these voters, but the chances of a major realignment among Democrats and their stronger demos are low. However, given the close win Trump won in 2016, he doesn’t need much more than an incremental improvement in these demos.

That may be especially true given the competition. Even with the economy stalled, Trump outpaces Joe Biden by a mile on that issue.

The economy and coronavirus crisis management may be all that matters in November. The poll data shows that the pandemic has upended American lives, with 50% of respondents claiming that their lives have been disrupted “a lot” by stay-at-home orders. That number is lower among Republicans (36%) than Democrats and independents (56% and 55%), which might be a function of where stay-at-home orders have been issued — mainly in blue states with high urban density. Still, 69% of Republicans combine up on that question when “some” disruption is added into the response. How Trump manages that concern and manages and/or embraces it will matter greatly to his political future, and the same is true for Joe Biden, for that matter.

The bigger worry for Americans right now is the economy, too. Only 56% of respondents think they are at high or moderate risk of contracting COVID-19, but 92% of respondents worry that a recession will result from it, with 59% saying a recession is “very likely.” Republicans are far more optimistic on this point, with only 39% thinking a recession will be “very likely,” while Democrats (66%) and independents (65%) are much more concerned. Two-thirds of Americans think it will be as bad or worse than the Great Recession twelve years ago, with 52% of Republicans agreeing.

If Trump can avoid that kind of economic crash, he will emerge even stronger on the economy in November’s election. This is certainly one reason Trump’s emphasizing the need to get back to normal, although it’s hardly the only reason.