It was also short-lived. The FiveThirtyEight average has Trump back near 43 percent. All good things and so on.
The reason for the bump seems fairly clear: The president was benefiting from what is called the “rally round the flag” effect. In times of crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic that’s killed more than 50,000 people in the United States, Americans often express more support for the president charged with fixing things. It’s what propelled President George W. Bush’s approval to 90 percent in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But Trump never got that high — and his improvement lasted only a few weeks.
A poll conducted by The Washington Post and our partners at the University of Maryland released on Tuesday shows two important complicating factors related to views of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. The first is that Trump’s approval on the subject is held back by skepticism from independents and hostility from Democrats. The second is that state governors — charged by the White House with handling much of the response — are broadly getting much higher marks.
Among all respondents, 47 percent rated Trump’s handling of the pandemic as excellent or good, compared with more than 75 percent who said that of their own governors. The difference by party is clear: Democrats, independents and Republicans all had similar views of how their own governors had handled the virus while differing widely on Trump.
There’s an extent to which Trump’s repeated argument that Democrats will always oppose him is accurate. There have been few issues on which Democrats have been generous in their views of the president. Even on the economy, until last month Trump’s consistently best issue, Democrats were generally skeptical. Trump, of course, bears some responsibility for that hostility, given his repeated goading of his opponents and focus on addressing issues prioritized by conservatives.
While the poll by The Post and U-Md. offers a general view of how Trump compares with state governors, we can also consider how he matches up against specific governors, using recent polling in Florida, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.
The most remarkable comparison is New York, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) is viewed as doing an excellent or good job by 71 percent of his constituents. His approval rating on handling the pandemic is at 84 percent — including approval from nearly three-quarters of Republicans. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) similarly gets higher marks than Trump both overall and on his handling of the virus. There, too, Republicans are broadly supportive of how the governor has dealt with the pandemic.
The situation in Michigan is slightly different. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has been criticized sharply by Republicans for the strict social distancing measures she implemented. Republicans in the state don’t give her very good marks on handling the pandemic, and her overall approval ratings are therefore more modest than what Cuomo and Wolf see. But again, compared with Trump, weighed down by opposition from Democrats, Whitmer does better.
(As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that in most states, Trump gets lower marks on his handling of the pandemic than he does overall — including among Republicans.)
An exception to the governors-overperforming rule is Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who met with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday. Views of DeSantis’s performance as governor are generally in line with Trump’s, though he fares slightly better in a poll conducted by Fox News than one from Quinnipiac University. What’s unusual about views of DeSantis is that he’s seen as doing worse on the virus than Trump among Republicans, even as Democrats say he’s doing better. This may be a function of the extent to which Republicans support Trump, something from which DeSantis doesn’t benefit.
DeSantis is the only Republican on the graph above, but another Republican governor, Greg Abbott of Texas, was also the subject of a recent poll. In it, he does seven percentage points better than Trump on overall job approval and eight points better on handling of the coronavirus — generally in line with DeSantis.
One through line for Trump is as clear as it is consistent. A polarizing president who’s constantly in the limelight is constrained by partisan sentiment on this issue as with nearly all others.
But these polls do raise another question: What if Trump had embraced the federal government’s role in the response from the outset, declining to ask states to buy their own material, determine their own processes for rescinding stay-at-home orders or, as he did Monday, be responsible for their own testing systems? What if he had assumed a more central role before the pandemic was declared?
That question we will have to leave to historians.