But while Americans seem to be standing by their commander in chief about as much as they usually do, a couple of new polls reinforce a major liability for the president as the virus spreads.
That echoes a Pew Research Center poll from late last week that showed the same number (65 percent) said Trump was “too slow to take major steps” to address the situation. In that poll, even one-third of Republicans and GOP-leaning voters conceded that Trump didn’t react quickly enough.
In each case, only about half as many people overall said Trump was on the ball from the beginning — 32 percent in the latter and 34 percent in the former.
These polls, importantly, suggest a potential regression for Trump on this question. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late March asked a similar question, and 58 percent said Trump was too slow to address the situation.
There is some nuance within these numbers, though, and the rally-round-the-flag effect that characterized Trump’s early and slight coronavirus poll bounce still seems to be benefiting him.
In the NBC-WSJ poll, for example, a hefty portion of that 65 percent say that despite his early failure, Trump is now handling the crisis well. This slice accounts for a whopping 20 percent of all registered voters. In total, 50 percent of registered voters in the poll said that however they felt about his initial response, Trump is now handling the situation well.
Curiously, that number differs somewhat from his overall approval rating on the subject. While 50 percent in that question said Trump is handling the situation well now, just 44 percent said they approved of him overall on the subject.
Polls like this will often find inconsistent answers when questions are asked in different ways, and that possibility shouldn’t be discounted here. But there’s also a logical reason for the difference between the 50 percent who say Trump is handling the situation well now and the 44 percent who approve of his handling of it: Some people recognize the disproportionate importance of the early response.
And that’s the danger in these polls for Trump. There is a demonstrated tendency for people to rally around a president in a time of crisis. The fact that even in the midst of that slow initial response Trump was getting a bounce — including as many as 60 percent approving of his handling of the situation in a mid-March Gallup poll — suggests that applied to this situation. That has now receded, but it’s also possible it continues to buoy Trump’s overall numbers to some extent. The fact that so many people rate Trump’s initial response poorly but give him a thumbs up overall suggests that his numbers might still be inflated and could continue to deteriorate.
Other findings in recent polls reinforce that. The NBC-WSJ poll, for instance, shows 50 percent say Trump is handling the situation well now and 44 percent approve of his handling of it, but when given a choice between him and Joe Biden to handle the situation, just 36 percent choose Trump — as compared with 45 percent who choose Biden. When it comes more broadly to who people trust to handled a crisis, Biden holds another nine-point lead, 47 to 38.
These numbers echo a Quinnipiac University poll from this month, but the Post-ABC poll last month had shown about an even split, with 45 percent favoring Trump being in charge and 43 percent preferring Biden. So again, a possible regression.
The same Quinnipiac poll also showed just 25 percent of people gave Trump an A grade for his handling of the response — compared to the 10 out of 10 he has given himself.
Trump’s lack of truthfulness is also registering. The NBC-WSJ poll showed people said by a 52-to-36 margin that they generally didn’t trust what Trump has been saying about the situation. A Monmouth University poll earlier this month, meanwhile, asked whether people trusted Trump or their states’ governors more to provide information about the outbreak. Just 15 percent picked Trump, while 43 percent picked their governor, and 29 percent trusted both equally.
But perhaps no number looms larger than that nearly two-thirds who say Trump reacted too slowly. That initial reaction is hugely important in an outbreak and can be traced directly to the situation we currently find ourselves in. People have now processed this important question and seem to be siding against Trump in large numbers.
Many of them may be sticking by the president in a time of crisis, but that perception — which has apparently now been cemented — will loom over whatever becomes of the outbreak. Trump can mitigate it if the response is successful from here on, but it shouldn’t escape notice that such a large chunk of Americans say he was asleep at the wheel at the start.