The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll came out this weekend and it’s got plenty of bad news for almost everyone. The eye-popping number that NBC seems to focus on the most is the significant majority of Americans who are more worried about the novel coronavirus getting its second wind if we reopen the country too quickly (58%) as compared to those who are more concerned with the economic damage being caused by the shutdown (32%). One other stark figure comes with the question of whether or not people felt that the coronavirus has changed their life in a “very major” or “fairly major” way. One month ago, only 26% of people felt that way. Now the figure is at 77%.
Buried deeper down in the poll, however, there’s some unpleasant news for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. When asked how much they trust what they’re being told about the pandemic by either President Trump or Uncle Joe, neither fared very well. Trump only scored 36% in terms of who trusts what he’s saying on the subject. But for Biden, not only was that number even lower, but nearly half of the people surveyed weren’t even aware that he’s been weighing in on the subject. (NBC News, emphasis added)
Only 36 percent of respondents in the poll say they generally trust what Trump has said when it comes to the coronavirus, while 52 percent say they don’t trust him.
By comparison, 69 percent say they trust the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 66 percent trust their own governor; 60 percent trust Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert; 46 percent trust New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; and 35 percent trust Vice President Mike Pence.
The numbers for Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, are 26 percent who trust, 29 percent who don’t trust, and 42 percent who aren’t aware of his coronavirus statements or who don’t have an opinion.
Trump’s trust numbers shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After a brief period where he saw a modest gain in approval on his handling of the pandemic, he’s now back down where he’s been in general approval for most of his presidency. And as one NBC News analyst correctly points out, this is likely a sign that we’re starting to move from the “rally around the flag” stage we see in every crisis to the “recrimination” phase.
As I wrote last week, there was never going to be a winning situation for the President in political terms, no matter how this story eventually ends. If the measures we’ve taken are successful and we somehow keep the COVID-19 death toll down around the same levels we see in a bad flu season, people will say that Trump overreacted and trashed the economy for nothing. If the virus proves more resilient and aggressive than anticipated and the death rate keeps grinding upwards into the many hundreds of thousands, they will say that he failed to act sufficiently boldly and killed off a significant portion of the country. And the majority of the media will happily play along with either scenario as long as they get to blame the Bad Orange Man.
Biden’s numbers, however, are rather shocking. Despite cable news and the major newspapers covering every one of his basement blogging sessions and heaping praise on him, his trust numbers on dealing with the pandemic are ten points lower than Trump’s. He’s also underwater in terms of the trust/don’t trust questions for those who are aware that he’s been speaking at all.
But the fact that more than 40% are either unaware that he’s been commenting or don’t care enough to form an opinion should be setting off some alarm bells. What that says is that Joe Biden has been effectively sidelined completely during one of the most crucial periods of crisis that America has witnessed in generations. That’s not exactly heartening news for his supporters.
But at the same time, there may be a silver lining in there for Uncle Joe. With fewer people paying attention to him, fewer people are bearing witness to his repeated episodes where he seems to lose the thread entirely on live television and begins babbling incoherently. That situation isn’t going to hold forever, though. Sooner or later he’s going to wind up in a debate with Donald Trump, even if there’s no live audience to witness it. And if he goes wandering off into some stuttering alternate dimension while answering a question, I find it hard to believe that any but the most partisan progressives are going to feel confident in turning the reins over to him.