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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s failing grades on coronavirus, Black Lives Matter protests continue to decline

President Trump returns to the White House after a June 23, 2020, rally in Arizona. (Alex Brandon/AP)

For much of Donald Trump’s presidency, he avoided the kind of massive crises that truly try presidents. Americans had significant concerns about his steadiness as a leader in 2016, despite electing him, but those concerns were never really tested in the face of major upheaval.

The coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter protests have changed that, and they appear to have damaged Trump significantly.

Two polls released Wednesday morning reinforce this. A Washington Post-Ipsos poll shows that just 36 percent of American adults approve of Trump’s handling of the protests following the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, while 62 percent disapprove. A New York Times-Siena College poll, meanwhile, shows the same number disapproving — 62 percent — but just 29 percent approving.

Similarly, the New York Times-Siena College poll shows that just 38 percent approve of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while 58 percent disapprove — some of his worst numbers to date.

His numbers on the protests have been consistently negative, but they are getting worse. An early-June Washington Post-Schar School poll showed Americans disapproved of his handling of it by a 24-point margin (55 percent to 31 percent). The Post-Ipsos poll, which was conducted in mid-June, showed a 26-point margin. And now both the NYT-Siena poll and another, conducted by CBS, show him 33 points underwater (62-29). All of those numbers are worse than his overall approval ratings.

Below is a compilation of high-quality polls on Trump’s response to the protests.

Trump’s numbers on the coronavirus are less negative, but they are trending worse. Polls conducted shortly after he announced the tough guidelines that his health officials recommended, in mid-March, showed more Americans approving of his handling than disapproving. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 51 percent approved and 45 percent disapproved. A Gallup poll that Trump was fond of citing even showed 60 percent approval.

Since then, polls have shown a steady erosion. The same Post-ABC poll had Trump seven points underwater a month ago. In recent days, he has had his worst polls to date — 20 points underwater in the NYT-Siena poll and 25 points underwater (62-37) in an Associated Press-NORC poll.

Trump’s numbers on these twin crises have tracked with an overall decline in his standing in the 2020 election. While he has long trailed Democrat Joe Biden nationally and in just about every key swing state, these recent polls also show him losing significant ground. The NYT-Siena poll joins a CNN poll this month in showing Trump trailing nationally by 14 points. Trump’s deficit in the RealClearPolitics average of polls has ballooned from less than five points in mid-May to more than 10 points. His 10.2-percentage-point deficit is his biggest since November and is tied for his biggest since September.

The danger in Trump’s reviews on these two issues is not so much that they have hurt his numbers, though, as in how they may have solidified his existent deficit. It is one thing for people to not be happy with you as president; it is another for them to view you as a failure when it comes to the two most immediate national crises about four months before an election.

And even some Republicans are acknowledging the need for a course-correction. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 ranking GOP senator, said Wednesday that Trump can win back independents, “but it’ll probably require not only a message that deals with substantive policy, but I think a message that conveys perhaps a different tone.” Thune added that there “needs to certainly be a change in probably strategy as far as the White House’s messaging is concerned.”

Indeed, much can change between now and Election Day. But while the coronavirus outbreak has declined significantly across the world — especially in Europe — the United States is no longer bending the curve, meaning the issue is very likely to be a relevant one come November. The protests, too, have forced a reckoning, and Americans’ views on issues of race and police have shifted significantly, even as Trump’s rhetoric really has not.

To the extent that these issues are on voters’ minds in four months, it seems likely that they will be significant hindrances for Trump — especially as he has shown no ability to right the ship.

This post has been updated.