It’s often pointed out that partisanship shapes voter perceptions of the state of the country. For instance, Gallup has noted that with President Trump in the White House, Republicans have tended to assess the economy more positively than Democrats do by numerous metrics, including how they evaluate their own personal economic situation.

You’d think the coronavirus pandemic might provide an exception to this rule, since the carnage is so visibly mounting all around us, including in many red and red-leaning states. But it doesn’t.

In fact, new polling exposes a striking version of this dynamic: While Americans increasingly believe that the United States is handling the novel coronavirus worse than most other countries, pluralities of Trump voters and Republicans think the United States is handling it better than most other countries are.

The toplines of the new HuffPost/YouGov poll are as follows, per Ariel Edwards-Levy:

A 46% plurality of the public now says the U.S. is handling the outbreak worse than other countries, with 24% saying it’s handling the outbreak as well as other countries and just 19% saying it’s doing better than most.
The results reflect a continuing decline in confidence over the course of this year. A March poll found that just 28% of Americans thought the U.S. was handling the outbreak worse than other countries, while a May survey put that figure at 36%.

The internals say that 40 percent of people who voted for Trump in 2016 think the United States is handling the virus better than most other countries, and another 36 percent say we’re handling it as well as they are — a total of 76 percent. Only 13 percent say we’re handling it worse.

Among self-identified Republicans, 38 percent say we’re handling it better and 36 percent say the same — a total of 74 percent — while only 19 percent say we’re handling it worse.

On the coronavirus, you’d think the metrics of our failure would be hard to evade. The United States boasts nearly one-fourth of the world’s reported coronavirus cases and deaths. We had more than 432,000 cases in the past seven days, a percentage jump that dwarfs that of most of our major western allies.

Meanwhile, the virus is surging in many states, including reddish ones. In an unusually blunt summary, the New York Times noted:

As the United States rides what amounts to a second wave of cases, with daily new infections leveling off at an alarming higher mark, there is a deepening national sense that the progress made in fighting the pandemic is coming undone and no patch of America is safe. ...
Gone is any sense that the country may soon gain control of the pandemic. Instead, the seven-day average for new infections hovered around 65,000 for two weeks.

To believe that the United States is doing well, you’d have to think that what we’re doing is good despite those mounting horrors. You couldn’t merely think that our rapid reopening earlier this spring was an inherently good approach because, say, freedom is good and lockdowns are bad. You’d also have to think this is the case despite the second surge in cases that was caused in no small part by that reopening.

But you’d have to work very hard to find your way to that conclusion. That’s because that too-rapid reopening essentially canceled many benefits we gained from our initial closure.

Recall that it first looked like the country was rebounding economically after many states reopened, suggesting the virus had been tamed. But the fact that this was premature, helping unleash current surges, has caused another huge retreat in economic activity, rendering the first round of it and all the economic misery that attended it largely for naught.

One could theoretically be aware of all this national lurching around — not to mention Trump’s repeated refusals to take the virus seriously early on when it could have been contained, and his more recent failure to scale up real national strategies on testing and procuring medical equipment to states — and still believe we’re handling it better than most other countries. But it’s hard to see what the basis for that might be.

Of course, it’s also possible many Trump voters and Republicans simply don’t know how bad the coronavirus has gotten here — after all, Trump regularly tells them we’re outperforming other countries — or are simply claiming they think we’re doing better to own the “fake news” pollsters or whatever. But those aren’t particularly flattering explanations, either.

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