GOP governors who took the coronavirus seriously saw a huge polling bump. Trump didn’t and is tanking.

President Donald Trump at campaign rally with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Reuters
  • President Donald Trump saw his approval numbers plummet over the course of April as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the US.
  • Meanwhile, GOP governors who took the coronavirus seriously from the start, and in some cases pushed against Trump (who downplayed the threat), have seen a surge in approval.
  • Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who took early steps to contain the outbreak, has become especially popular with his constituents.
  • Republican governors who’ve followed Trump’s lead on COVID-19, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida, have not experienced a similar polling bump.
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President Donald Trump’s polling numbers are tanking across the board amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Americans increasingly disapprove of his handling of the presidency and his approach to the coronavirus pandemic, and he’s trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 race, according to polls.

Comparatively, a number of GOP governors have enjoyed a surge in approval over their handling of the coronavirus. Unlike Trump, these Republican leaders have consistently taken the threat of the virus seriously and followed the guidance of public-health experts.

After Trump took steps that left the US less prepared for a pandemic in his first three years as president, he ignored warnings from the intelligence community and top advisers on the devastating potential of the virus while publicly downplaying the threat for weeks.

But as the coronavirus outbreak escalated in startling ways across the US in March, leading the president to declare a national emergency, Trump saw his approval rating briefly go up in what pollsters dubbed a rally-around-the-flag effect. That quickly changed in April as the US death toll and unemployment rose to astronomical levels, while Trump simultaneously turned daily White House press briefings into campaign-rally-like events in which he dominated the spotlight, berated reporters, and spread false information in the process.

The contrast between Trump’s handling of the pandemic and the approach taken by a number of Republican governors could not be more stark. And the consequences of his actions appear to be playing out in the polls.

Americans increasingly disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic

“We did all the right moves,” the president said on Wednesday.

“The federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story,” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said the same day.

Though Trump and top figures in his administration have sought to paint a positive picture of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the numbers on the crisis tell a different story. The US is the centre of the pandemic, with the most reported cases and confirmed fatalities.

As of Thursday, there were well over 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the US, alongside more than 61,000 deaths. For perspective, the number of Americans who have died from the coronavirus in a matter of weeks is greater than the death toll of US service members in the Vietnam War, which the US was directly involved in for nearly a decade. What’s more, recent data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the US death toll from the coronavirus is much higher than the official count.

Meanwhile, about 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment over the past six weeks as the US economy continues to plummet because of the pandemic and its restrictions.

As the crisis has worsened in the US, Trump’s polling numbers have also taken a nosedive.

An Emerson College Polling national survey released on Tuesday showed that Trump’s job-approval rating dropped 5 percentage points since March, from 46 to 41%, while approval of the president’s handling of the coronavirus dropped a whopping 10 percentage points, from 49 to 39%.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Wednesday showed a majority of respondents (55%) disapproved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which marked a 6-point increase in disapproval over the past month.

And Morning Consult polling released on Monday showed that since it reached a high point in mid-March, net approval of the president’s handling of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) hit a new low and dropped 22 points. Overall, a majority of respondents who identified as voters (51%) disapproved of Trump’s coronavirus response, the poll showed, while 43% approved. The survey was conducted between April 24 and April 26, the days that followed Trump’s controversial, dangerous suggestion that disinfectant or sunlight could be injected or used “inside the body” to combat the coronavirus.

In contrast to Trump, the Morning Consult survey showed that seven in 10 voters approved of their state and local governments’ response to the virus.

Similarly, a massive survey of 22,000 Americans conducted by researchers at Harvard, Northeastern University, and Rutgers University, showed respondents in all 50 states approved of their governors’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic more highly than Trump. Three out of the four highest-rated governors in the poll were Republicans from the states of Ohio, Massachusetts, and Maryland.

Trump on March 30. Alex Brandon/AP Photo

GOP governors who have not followed Trump’s example have enjoyed a polling bump

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio has been praised across the country for the early steps he took to protect his state from the coronavirus, such as being the first governor to close schools, and his constituents evidently appreciate his handling of the crisis as well. While Trump has pushed for states to reopen to get the economy going, DeWine has closely followed the advice of public-health experts and championed a more cautious approach.

A Baldwin Wallace University poll conducted in Ohio and released on Monday showed only 43% of respondents in the state had a favourable view of Trump, while 75% of them had a favourable view of DeWine.

The poll also found about half the respondents approved of Trump’s handling of COVID-19, while a whopping 85% said they approved of DeWine’s approach to the virus. And three in four respondents (75%) said DeWine was doing a better job at handling COVID-19 than Trump.

DeWine, who also broke from Trump by encouraging mail-in voting amid the pandemic, has seen a much bigger polling bump than Republican governors, like Ron DeSantis of Florida, who tend to take their cues from the president. The Florida governor has been widely criticised as being too slow to respond to the pandemic and too quick to reopen and ease restrictions.

A FiveThirtyEight analysis of polling on governors in the final quarter of 2019 versus polling on their handling of COVID-19 showed that the Florida governor’s prepandemic numbers were stronger, but the leaders of other states (including many Democratic governors) saw double-digit surges in approval in their approach to the crisis. Before the pandemic, DeSantis’ approval rating was 58%, the analysis showed, while his approval for his handling of the virus was at 51%.

Beyond DeWine, GOP Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland has seen strong polling numbers in terms of his response to COVID-19. A recent poll showed 84% of respondents in the state approved of Hogan’s handling of the crisis.

Hogan made national headlines this month after he and his wife, Yumi Hogan, orchestrated a deal to obtain testing kits for the coronavirus from South Korea. The nationwide testing-kit shortage has been among the most criticised aspects of the US government’s response to the pandemic, as it has significantly limited the country’s ability to gain a full picture of the scale of the outbreak within its borders.

As governors have begged the federal government for more assistance and supplies, Trump has consistently said it’s up to states to gain the necessary materials. Though Hogan essentially followed Trump’s directive in buying test kits from South Korea, the president subsequently attacked the Maryland governor.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, another GOP leader who does not automatically follow Trump’s lead, has also seen strong approval numbers on his handling of COVID-19. A recent Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll showed 80% of respondents in Massachusetts approved of Baker’s handling of the coronavirus, compared with about 28% who said the same about Trump.

Baker has openly chastised Trump on several occasions during the crisis, including in response the president’s push to reopen the country as quickly as possible.

The Massachusetts governor also recently slammed the president’s executive order to suspend immigration to the US (with some exceptions) over the pandemic. “I’m opposed to the decision that the president made,” Baker said last week. “I’m opposed to the order. It doesn’t make any sense, and I don’t think it makes us any safer.”