A nice distillation of Trump’s approach was his vocal advocacy of college athletes playing football this fall. When leagues such as the Big Ten announced that they would resume play — something for which Trump took apparently undue credit — he celebrated. It was a visible demonstration of normalcy: How bad could things be if there was still football?
On Wednesday, an answer to that question: This weekend’s game between Nebraska and Wisconsin was canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Wisconsin squad.
That Wisconsin was affected isn’t a surprise. Since early September, cases are up more than 400 percent in the state. As the president has tried to pretend that all is well, things have gotten consistently worse in the state. An average of 35 people a day are dying of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, up from five on Sept. 3, the day the state’s surge began.
Sitting in the White House, it’s easy for Trump to push this rise to the side. He can fly in, hold a rally where he claims there’s no problem and then fly back out. He likes to brag about how he’s now “immune” to the virus, given his past infection, so what’s the big deal?
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley appeared Wednesday on CNN and was asked whether it was responsible for Trump and Vice President Pence to hold rallies in the state, given the precariousness of the health-care situation. Eighty-five percent of hospital beds across Wisconsin are filled, mostly because of the surging case totals. Did this give the White House pause?
“No, it doesn’t,” Gidley said. “The vice president has the best doctors in the world around him.”
Well, as long as the vice president is safe, who could object?
On Tuesday, we pointed out that Trump’s final push toward reelection increasingly hinged on his supporters putting themselves at risk. He views the rallies as a show of enthusiasm, but those rallies increase the chances that the virus can spread. (Not to mention the other ways in which the rallies can threaten the health of attendees.) He hopes his voters go to the polls Tuesday instead of voting by absentee ballot — again increasing the risk they face.
Perhaps they will. But polling released Wednesday by The Washington Post and our partners at ABC News shows an obvious correlation between vote preference and concern about the coronavirus.
We polled two states, Michigan and Wisconsin, and found that Democratic nominee Joe Biden leads in both. But the margin by which he leads in Wisconsin is more than double his lead in Michigan — 17 points vs. seven — and concern about the pandemic is far higher in the former state than in the latter.
In Wisconsin, respondents were 20 points more likely to say they trusted Biden more than Trump on handling the pandemic. In Michigan, the gap was a more modest 14 points.
In Wisconsin, net approval of Trump’s handling of the pandemic (that is, those who approve minus those who don’t) was minus-20, compared with minus-13 in Michigan.
In Wisconsin, respondents were more than 30 points more likely to say they were worried about the virus than that they weren’t really worried about it. In Michigan, that gap was 19 points.
Wisconsin is more concerned about the virus, more critical of Trump’s handling of it — and much more likely to support Biden over Trump in the election.
The stretch of states from Minnesota to Pennsylvania was critical to Trump’s victory four years ago. It’s also a region where the pandemic has surged in recent weeks, complicating his message and effort to turn out voters.
The good news for Trump, if one can filter good news out of a deadly pandemic, is that the surges in most states have been mostly decoupled from polling. Looking at the surges in four states and comparing them on a week-by-week basis with polling averages from FiveThirtyEight, there’s not really much of a link.
In Michigan and Iowa, there is a strong correlation between support for Biden and the increase in cases from the recent low, but it’s not clear that there is any causality. In Minnesota and Nebraska, there’s basically no correlation at all. That despite Michigan and Minnesota seeing about the same increase in cases (about 220 percent) and Iowa and Nebraska also seeing similar rises (about 100 percent).
In other words, it may not be uniformly the case that surging coronavirus cases are hurting the president across the board. It may instead be the case in some states that the pandemic is ensuring he’s not doing any better.
Trump has repeatedly complained that he was on track for an easy reelection before the pandemic hit. He wasn’t. On Feb. 1, Biden had a five-point lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average. Trump’s deep unpopularity meant that he always had something of a ceiling in how much support he would earn.
The irony is that, for a period in the spring, that ceiling melted a bit as his approval rating improved — in response to the government’s coronavirus response. Then Trump decided to simply put the pandemic behind him and move forward as though all was well.
All is not well. Including Trump’s reelection bid.