Is Trump’s ratings improvement sustainable?

Trump’s ratings have improved to near-record highs, but his improvement is far less than other leaders. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, Donald Trump’s current ratings with all polls are 45.8% approve, 49.7% disapprove (net -3.9%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 46.3% approve, 50.3% disapprove (net -4.0%). Trump’s ratings have improved 5-6 points in the last two weeks, and are the highest they have been since early in his term.

Despite the rise in Trump’s approval, the RealClearPolitics average of national polls gave virtually certain Democratic nominee Joe Biden a 6.1% lead over Trump, down only a little from 8.5% last fortnight.

A recent Fox News national poll gave Trump a 51-48 disapproval rating. However, 53% thought a quicker response from the federal government could have slowed the spread of coronavirus, while 34% said it was so contagious nothing could stop it spreading. Despite the higher rating for Trump, the same poll gave Biden a 49-40 lead.

Major crises tend to produce a “rally round the flag” effect for incumbents. Trump’s gains so far are dwarfed by George W. Bush’s gains in approval of over 30 points after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Other current leaders and governing parties have had far bigger bounces in their ratings than Trump. In Britain, two recent polls gave the Conservatives 54%, up from the mid to high 40s. In Germany, the conservative Union parties are currently in the mid-30s, up from the mid-20s before the crisis. The latest French poll gave President Emmanuel Macron a -8 net approval, up 26 points.

Even in the US, Trump’s bounce is far less than the bounce for New York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo’s net favourable rating improved from -6 to +48 in a New York Siena College poll. New York has the most US coronavirus cases so far.

An example of a major crisis that produced an initial rally round the flag effect, but nothing else, is the December 2010 to January 2011 Queensland floods, during which over three-quarters of the state was affected.

I obtained old Newspoll data on request from Kevin Bonham. In October to December 2010, the Labor state government was trailing the opposition LNP by a landslide 59-41 margin. In January to March 2011, Labor surged ahead by 52-48, but then fell immediately back to a 60-40 deficit in April to June 2011. Labor never recovered, and was reduced to just seven of 89 seats at the March 2012 state election.

The Queensland polling indicates that, if the coronavirus crisis is resolved relatively quickly, people will be more focussed on other factors by the November election. In that case, how much damage the economy takes and whether it is clearly recovering are likely to be key factors in the election.

The more likely scenario is that coronavirus will damage the US both economically and in health terms for a long time. The US already has far more cases than any other country. I do not believe Trump’s ratings gains will be sustained if the US falls into a massive health and economic crisis.

The crisis has already had an economic impact: in the week ending March 21, almost 3.3 million new jobless claims were submitted, far exceeding the previous record of 695,000. Weekly jobless claims are published every Thursday, and this Friday we get the March US jobs report.

Israel and Ireland election updates

At the March 2 Israeli election, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc won 58 of the 120 Knesset seats, while more left-wing parties won 55 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu, which had failed to work with either side at the previous two elections, won the remaining seven seats. Owing to the coronavirus crisis, Blue & White leader Benny Gantz has opted to attempt to form a national unity government with Netanyahu.

At the February 8 Irish election, the two traditional conservative parties – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – combined won 73 of the 160 seats, eight short of a majority, with the far-left Sinn Féin winning 37 seats. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are attempting to form a coalition government, which would require either another party or independents.

14 comments on “Is Trump’s ratings improvement sustainable?”

  1. Hi Adrian
    Anxiously awaiting your analysis of the Seanad Eirean Election
    Who will get up for Trinity College?

  2. I sent this to WB yesterday, and have now updated the first two paragraphs to reflect the latest national polling. Today, there was also a high quality poll from Wisconsin, a key state in the general election. That poll gave Biden a three-point lead over Trump.

    Morning Consult has been polling the ratings of various world leaders. They show a particularly massive bounce in net approval for Boris Johnson, with Scott Morrison also doing well. According to this polling, the far-left Mexican president and far-right Brazilian president have had the best net approvals of all polled leaders for a long time.

  3. Wait until the American death tally soars past 100,000 and America’s cities and large towns remain locked down past a month and then I’ll think you’ll have your answer to the question in the thread title, Adrian.

    The kicker will be when the virus finally spreads into isolated insulated Hicksville, USA – the MAGA heartland. All those church congregations coming together to pray on a Sunday, only to start dying the following Saturday … Oops.

  4. Wikipedia says USA population is 328,239,523 estimated 2019

    If 70% population get infected 330 million * 0.7 = 231 million

    if 20% of those infected need hospitalisation 231 million /5 = 46,200,000

    half of those need intubation, and die after 12 days in ICU = 23 million deaths

    I can’t see America’s shitty health system rising to the occasion so the death toll will be between 23 and 46 million, killing 1 in 8 Americans

    Probably 1 in 16 Australians will die

  5. Billie – while your figures are plausible, they are probably pretty unlikely, and well above any other estimates. For the US, the upper end of estimates is currently a quarter of a million deaths, and while this could yet be exceeded, it’s hard to see how that could be by a 100-fold. For sure, America’s public health system is poor by first world standards, but there are still excellent health care options for most people, and so consequently, the worst outcomes (as elsewhere) will be concentrated down at the bottom of the wealth pyramid.

    Your estimate for Australia of around 1.5 million deaths is wildly overblown, and again far, far higher than even the most alarmist of estimates. Our death toll is more likely to be in the low thousands at worst (though of course the situation is nothing but fluid, and this could yet change), and this is assuming that the various restrictions in place have no effect, whereas in actual fact confirmed new case numbers have leveled out in Australia over the past week or so in the 300-400 range, taking a week to double, compared to the every 2-3 days of about 10 days ago.

    The problem with exaggerated estimates like these is that they have the effect of the more likely death tolls seem like good news, whereas even 240,000 deaths in the US would be third in terms of major mortality events, behind only the Civil War (about 800,000 deaths), the Spanish flu (675,000) and World War II (about 400,000). But clearly that’s not scary enough for some.

  6. Back on topic, it’s hard to see how Trump can get any long-term benefit out of this crisis, even if he was managing vaguely competently (which of course, he is not). The health crisis will likely take out a few hundred thousand victims, which, as I’ve noted above, would rank as the third-worst mortality event in US history (behind the Civil War, the Spanish flu and World War II, and it’s not inconceivable that it ends up on top). These are disastrous figures in themselves for Trump, even before we factor in that those victims will probably skew older and less educated (ie Trump’s base), and indeed there has been some polling to suggest that more republican voters are skeptical about the seriousness of the pandemic (eg, “it’s all a beat up”, “it’s a Democratic Party hoax” etc), in which case they are probably less likely to engage in physical distancing and other measures that might slow the spread.

    To fight the pandemic, of course, large parts of the country have had to go into lockdown, and consequently large sections of the country are closed, and therefore millions are being thrown out of work (3.3 million applied for unemployment insurance in March, more than doubling the previous monthly record set in the GFC of 2008). A deep, deep recession for all of us seems inevitable, but particularly in the US, and there’s no time for any rebound before election day.

    There is already some evidence that Trump’s base is starting to fracture around Covid-19, and once the health and economic figures get truly frightening (which will probably happen within weeks), I think we can expect to see his “bump” disappear very quickly. Even now, it’s not terribly substantial compared to the boost to other Presidents in past crises, and given that Trump’s approval ratings were already historically poor, it’s hard to see how he’ll turn it around between here and November.

  7. Thanks Adrian for your very informative post.

    Trump will not get another term. I’ll be surprised if he is even the candidate in November.

  8. Victoria

    There have been Republican primaries, where Trump has swept up all the delegates essentially unopposed. At a guess I’d say he’d half more than half the total now given how many of the big states have voted.

    So for Trump to not be the nominee he would have to stand down of his own accord. Probably unlikely. But who knows in these interesting times.

  9. Adrian

    I might reading the Morning Consult data incorrectly, but it looks to me like Bolsonaro’s ratings are pretty much the same.since January.

    I’d be shocked if his ratings were improving given his handling of the crisis (I’d argue worse even than Trump). I’m very concerned about how Brazil is going to fare in coming weeks.

  10. “Labor never recovered, and was reduced to just seven of 89 seats at the March 2012 state election.”…. Only to defeat the Newman’s LNP government at the following state election…. But I am digressing….

  11. I think Trump will win the next election. I remember reading of an anti-vaxxer parent had one kid die from a preventable disease and refused to vaccinate the rest of her children. She remained anti-vaxxer in the face of evidence in their own family.

    That is how much the adherence to a cult’s idea holds over people.

    I think that Trumpists are that far gone, from all I have seen, heard and read.

    But what about the GOP who could have impeached the President and ended this Trump disaster before this plague. and now have the deaths of thousands on their hands?

    If ever a party deserves to implode and crash into dust, it is that Republican Party of the USA.

  12. PuffyTMD – you are probably correct to observe that a Trump’s base will stick with him regardless (though there is some polling evidence to suggest that his base might be starting to fray at the margins), but his base does not make a majority, or even an Electoral College majority. Trump’s base – older white people (and more men than women) with lower education – is probably about 30-35% of the voting public, and he made up the difference with habitual Republican voters and independents who couldn’t stomach Hilary Clinton (he was also greatly assisted by a lower Dem turn-out in a few crucial states). It’s worth remembering that even then he fell far short of a majority of votes in 2016, and really only one via the anti-democratic statistical fluke of the Electoral College.

    Since then, Trump has stuck with his base strategy to the exclusion of all else, with the result that better educated suburbanites – long-time GOP voters – have started deserting the Republicans, as evidenced by the mid-terms of 2018, and any number of special elections in the last three years. Trump’s approval ratings have been underwater for most of his term, with approval ratings stuck in the 40-45% range, and a disapproval rating north of 50%. In the normal course of events, these are not really numbers to base a re-election bid on.

    All of this was before Covid changed everything. Trump had a very narrow window back in late February to take command and limit the damage (both health and economic), and instead he dismissed it as a threat. This has largely continued until as recently as this week, and now it’s too late – the virus is out of control, and the economy is cratering.

    Trump’s one chance at re-election relied on a strong economy, and failing that, some halfway competent crisis management. Neither of those look remotely possible now, and all Biden needs to do is look plausibly presidential.

  13. jz, Bolsonaro’s ratings have declined a little since Jan. My earlier comment said that AMLO in Mexico and Bolsonaro have had the highest ratings at least before the current crisis.

    Last night, we got the jobless claims report for the week ending March 28. It was another shocker: more than 6.6 million new jobless claims. The March jobs report is tonight, but the reference week will be about mid-March.

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