Americans divided on Trump coronavirus response as president’s approval rating climbs, polls find

WASHINGTON – Americans are divided on President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 1,000 in the U.S. and caused economic devastation, according to recent polls. 

A Reuters/Ipsos online survey of more than 4,000 Americans found 49% approve of Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, while 44% disapproved.

Those results largely fell along party lines. Republicans approved of the president’s response 83%-13%, while Democrats disapproved 71%-24%. Independents were split, 43%-43%. 

An Economist/YouGov poll also found that 49% approve of Trump’s management of the outbreak with 44% saying they disapprove. And, as with the Reuters poll, the opinions largely fell along party lines.

Eighty-nine percent of registered Republicans said they approved of Trump’s response, while only 7% said they disapproved. Among Democrats, 74% said they disapproved, while 21% approved. Independents were divided: 42% approved and 45% disapproved. 

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Trump’s opponents have sharply criticized the president’s handling of the outbreak, which now has grown to about 70,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. They argue that the administration should have pushed for tests to be available sooner and that federal agencies should have been preparing for an outbreak earlier. 

The president, on the other hand, has given himself high marks for his response, particularly his decision to shut down travel from the area of China where the virus first appeared. He said that move saved thousands of lives. 

The Reuters and Economist polls contrasted with other recent surveys that appeared to show voters were rallying behind the president amid the crisis. A Gallup poll released Tuesday found 60% of Americans thought Trump was doing a good job of dealing with the pandemic, while 38% disapproved. 

And an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday found 55% approved of Trump’s response, a 12-percentage-point improvement over the week before. 

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Like the other polls, the Gallup results fell along party lines, but the survey found that Trump’s job approval rating jumped 8 percentage points among independents and 6 points among Democrats from its previous poll. Gallup noted that was unusual for the president and attributed that climb to a “rally effect” often seen when the nation is in crisis.

And Trump’s overall job approval rating has climbed in other polls as well. According to RealClearPolitics, his average approval rating is at 47%, the highest level of his presidency. Similarly, the polling site FiveThirtyEight has him at approval levels close to those he enjoyed during his first months in office. 

If Trump’s approval is rising because of a “rally effect,” it is modest compared with the rise in support for other recent presidents dealing with crises. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, President George W. Bush’s approval rating spiked 35 percentage points, according to Gallup. 

“There is a rally effect happening, but the rally is extraordinarily weak compared to other modern presidents,” Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told USA TODAY.

“Incredibly, Trump still hasn’t crossed the 50% mark in job approval – a much more important measure than public views about Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Why is that? Americans either love Trump or hate Trump, and the vast majority will never change their evaluation.”

And Trump still slightly trails the likely Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, in a general election matchup, according to the polls. The Reuters survey found Biden leading Trump 42%-36% in a hypothetical matchup (8% were undecided). The Economist poll found Biden ahead 46%-42% in a hypothetical matchup. 

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was done March 18-24 with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points. The Economist/YouGov poll was done March 22-24 with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points. The Gallup poll was taken March 13-22 with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. 

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