Trump is more popular than ever, but there's more to the story
4 takeaways from a mid-crisis polling spike for the U.S. president
Sorry to the haters, doubters and slack-jawed disbelievers: Donald Trump has the highest approval ratings of his presidency.
The barrage of criticism he's faced in the media over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis does not erase the fact that he's getting decent marks from the public.
He's closer than ever to cracking the 50 per cent mark in public approval.
Trump took a pause Friday from dealing with this deadly, economy-pulverizing pandemic to tweet his thanks to a journalist who pointed out his poll numbers.
As the president often does, he insisted his real support must be much higher than what's in the media. "Add 10 points!" he tweeted.
Needless to say, you can't arbitrarily add 10 points to a survey and call it statistically sound. But here are a few things we can definitely glean from the polling so far.
Thank you Byron. Many polls are much better than this. If it is the Fake News <a href="https://twitter.com/washingtonpost?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@washingtonpost</a>, add 10 points! <a href="https://t.co/H5kBKNukT5">https://t.co/H5kBKNukT5</a>—@realDonaldTrump
Trump has more support than ever
Trump had a 47.3 per cent average approval rating, according to an aggregate of surveys compiled by the website Real Clear Politics. The closest he's ever come to 50 per cent support was right after his inauguration in 2017.
Some surveys even show him with more public approval than disapproval for the first time, though most don't.
Yet he's still in political danger
Still, most polls show his ratings slightly underwater, with the Real Clear Politics average showing two per cent more disapprove of his leadership (49.3 per cent) than approve.
The other bad news for Trump involves the general election. He's beaten his likely opponent, Joe Biden, just one time in 24 head-to-head national polls listed on the site this year.
Of course, U.S. elections are fought state by state. What the swing states show is a close race, with some challenges for the incumbent.
Trump has been a bit behind in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and a bit ahead in Florida. There's less data from Ohio, and it's mixed. An additional challenge for Trump is, entering this crisis, he was trailing Biden in the Republican-leaning states of Arizona and North Carolina.
There is another important point to be made, since any talk of U.S. presidential polling inevitably draws complaints that pollsters got it wrong in 2016, and Trump himself habitually claims his true support is much higher than published figures.
It's this: the national polls were not wrong in 2016.
Leaders poll well in a crisis
Leaders are getting strong public support in this crisis — it's happening throughout the U.S., and in lots of other places.
Look at the results from one Fox News poll. It asked respondents to rank the performance of various figures in the U.S. Everyone got good marks — and everyone else polled better than Trump.
Seventy-seven per cent approved of the job done by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; local officials got 75 per cent; state governments 74 per cent; Vice-President Mike Pence 55 per cent; and Trump 51 per cent.
The federal and provincial governments in Canada are getting high marks for their handling of the crisis, with approval ratings mainly in the 60s and, in the case of Quebec Premier François Legault, way higher. One survey showed 93 per cent support for Legault's performance.
Warning to all of them: this kind of mid-crisis polling can prove to be the political equivalent of a sugar high.
Take George H.W. Bush, who had an approval rating around 90 per cent after winning the first Gulf War in 1991 but lost re-election the following year. A soft economy quickly pulled his Gallup approval down as low as 29 per cent.
His son, George W. Bush, also reached 90 per cent approval after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and narrowly won re-election three years later.
The handling of this crisis will be litigated for decades to come. It's still very early in the debate, and there's no telling what turn it will take in the seven-plus months until election day.
Some Democrats sound disheartened on social media, venting their frustration that Trump is being rewarded by the public for what they see as catastrophic leadership.
They argue that he's repeatedly messed up basic facts; picked petty fights; downplayed the need for new ventilators one day, then treated it like a national emergency the next; disbanded a pandemic task force; and wasted precious weeks telling the country this crisis would never hit.
Trump's reply: He was quick to close the border to China, then did the same with Europe as the crisis spread. He's also signed a second massive economic-rescue bill.
Amid all this, Biden has kept a relatively low profile. Biden's team has been debating whether it's advisable to criticize Trump too strongly amid a national crisis.
But the Democratic advertising machine is starting to unload on the president. In Facebook ads, and in TV ads.
Trump refused to take the threat of the coronavirus seriously, now he won’t take responsibility as his administration has been totally unprepared for this crisis. <a href="https://t.co/Jdh1GY9HHS">pic.twitter.com/Jdh1GY9HHS</a>—@prioritiesUSA
The largest Democratic super PAC is running an ad in different states showing a rising number of coronavirus cases over a period of weeks where Trump downplayed the crisis.
The Trump campaign warned stations they could lose their broadcasting licence for running the ad — the president's campaign lawyers argue it is misleading.
The Democratic group responded by saying it would buy more ads.