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.