The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump faces rising disapproval and widespread distrust on coronavirus, Post-ABC poll finds

President Trump wore a mask in public for the first time on July 11, during a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Americans’ views of President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic have deteriorated significantly as cases rise across the country and personal fears of becoming infected persist, a Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.

The Post-ABC poll shows 38 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the outbreak, down from 46 percent in May and 51 percent in March. Sixty percent disapprove, up from 53 percent in May and 45 percent in March.

More than half of the public — 52 percent — now disapproves “strongly” of Trump’s handling of the outbreak, roughly double the percentage who say they strongly approve of his efforts and an increase from 36 percent in strong disapproval since March.

Trump has sent mixed messages throughout the pandemic and has often been at odds with scientists and health officials in his administration. He now faces clear credibility problems with the public. More than 6 in 10 say they do not trust what he says about the outbreak, including 2 in 3 political independents and nearly 3 in 10 Republicans.

Trump’s disconnect with the public is clear on questions about reopening the economy and the wearing of masks. While Trump has called on states to lift business restrictions in an effort to boost the economy, Americans say that controlling the spread of the virus is a higher priority.

A 63 percent majority say it is more important to try to control the spread of the virus even if it hurts the economy, up from 57 percent in May. The share who “strongly” favor controlling the virus’s spread over restarting the economy has grown from 41 percent in May to 52 percent in the latest survey.

On the subject of masks, nearly 8 in 10 Americans say they are wearing one most or all of the time when they come close to others in public. Trump wore a mask for the first time in public last week after months in which he showed reluctance to follow the recommendations of public health officials. Even after that display at a military hospital, however, he publicly contended that the use of masks should not be mandatory.

Trump’s worsening ratings on management of the outbreak reflect not only a drop in approval among Democrats but also declines among some groups that have been core parts of his coalition since 2016. Trump’s ratings for handling the coronavirus have dropped by 16 percentage points among white evangelical Protestants to 68 percent today; by 15 points among white men without college degrees to 56 percent; and by 11 points among rural residents to 48 percent approval.

Political independents continue to give Trump negative marks for his handling of the outbreak by a wide margin, with 39 percent approving and 58 percent disapproving in the latest survey. A scant 4 percent of Democrats approve of Trump’s efforts. Among Republicans, nearly 4 in 5 approve, but a notable 19 percent disapprove.

The Post-ABC poll finds 66 percent of Americans saying they are very or somewhat worried about themselves or a family member becoming infected, hardly budging from 63 percent in late May and 69 percent in late March. Five percent say someone in their immediate family has already caught the virus, up from 2 percent who said this two months ago.

On July 15 President Trump demoted campaign manager Brad Parscale and replaced him with new campaign manager Bill Stepien. (Video: The Washington Post)

The partisan gap in infection fears has closed somewhat in the past two months, as outbreaks have moved from urban, predominantly Democratic areas to a broader swath of the country, including Republican areas of the Sun Belt and the South. The share of Republicans who are at least somewhat worried has risen from 44 percent to 54 percent, while worry among Democrats has held steady at 79 percent in May and 81 percent today. Independents are closer to Republicans, with 60 percent saying they worry about themselves or a family member being infected.

Mask-wearing requirements are rising throughout the country, with nearly half of states mandating that masks be worn in various circumstances, including Alabama and Montana, which both announced a mask requirement Wednesday. The country’s largest retail chain, Walmart, announced this week that customers at all its stores must wear masks, a requirement that several other national retailers have also set.

The Post-ABC poll finds Americans largely report abiding by CDC recommendations to wear a mask when coming close to other people in public. A 79 percent majority report wearing a mask at least “most of the time” when around other people outside their home, including 57 percent who report wearing a mask all the time. Clear majorities across party lines say they wear a mask at least most of the time, though 42 percent of Republicans say they wear masks “all the time,” compared with 52 percent of independents and 74 percent of Democrats.

Among independents and Republicans, personal fears about infection are closely intertwined with attitudes on mask-wearing and ratings of Trump’s handling of the outbreak.

Roughly 6 in 10 Republicans and independents alike who are worried about a family member being infected say they always wear a mask when around others outside their home, compared with about half as many less-worried independents, and even fewer among Republicans who say they are not too worried about infections.

Similarly, less than 3 in 10 independents who are worried about a family member being infected approve of Trump’s handling of the outbreak; approval more than doubles among independents who are not worried. Among Republicans, 65 percent of those who are worried about infections rate Trump positively for handling the outbreak, compared with 95 percent of Republicans less worried about an infection.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted July 12-15 among a random national sample of 1,006 adults, with 75 percent of interviews conducted by cellphone and the rest on landline. The margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.