If you automatically dismiss anything put out by Fox News as right-wing, pro-Trump propaganda, you can stop reading right here.
If you’re an adult, however, you’ll keep reading, because a new Fox poll offers an unusually detailed, and therefore unusually instructive, early idea about how the difficulties of predicting how the CCP Virus pandemic will impact the upcoming presidential election.
The results, released April 9, drew the most attention for two findings. The first was that President Trump’s overall approval ratings had hit an all-time high of 49 percent. Just FYI, Fox polls’ previous such readings have been pretty much in line with other soundings – finding a range of 38 percent to 49 percent since 2017.
The second was that Mr. Trump and now-presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, were tied in the presidential race. Also FYI – Fox has consistently reported that Biden had been significantly leading the President since it’s been tracking this formerly hypothetical contest since March, 2019. (Biden’s formal entry came in late April, but was widely expected beforehand.)
As always, however, those overlooking the internals will be missing major takeaways, and in this case, they entail how the public judges Mr. Trump’s handling of the crisis. In a nutshell, feelings seem to be pretty mixed.
For example, 51 percent of respondents approved of the President’s CCP Virus record. That was the lowest favorable rating of the choices offered. (Public health official Anthony Fauci’s 80 percent led the way with 80 percent, and “your state government came in second at 77 percent.) But it was still net positive.
Somewhat more Americans than approved of the Trump response (57 percent) agreed that the nation is “moving in the right direction” against the pandemic. The President’s marks for “caring about what people are going through” (51 percent agreeing versus 45 percent disagreeing), “providing strong leadership” (opinion split at 48 percent), “making good policy decisions” (47 percent agreeing, 45 percent disagreeing), and having “an understanding of the facts” (an underwater for Mr. Trump 45 percent-47 percent reading) look pretty good. And the same goes for whether the President is “reacting appropriately” to the pandemic or not taking it “seriously enough.” Here, Trump is down 46 percent to 47 percent – just about where he was when Fox first asked the question between March 21 and March 24.
Yes, there’s less of a rally-round-flag effect visible here than, say, former President George W. Bush enjoyed after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. At the same time, Bush had the advantage of fighting a foreign enemy easily portrayed as contemptible. Mr. Trump is fighting a micro-organism. It’s tempting also to argue that partisan feelings today are much higher than two decades ago, but national feelings were pretty raw after the hotly disputed, incredibly narrow presidential election of 2000.
More concerning for the White House and Trumpers generally, though: Fifty-five percent of respondents endorsed the view that the federal government “could have slowed the spread of the virus.” Only 31 percent believed “Nothing could have prevented it from spreading the way it has.” Moreover, these results were little changed from Fox’ March 21-24 finding.
Which brings us back to the Trump-Biden results. Although, as indicated just above, the public seems pretty strongly inclined to blame the President for a lagging CCP Virus response, and although these views are essentially unchanged since late March, that’s the period during which the share of respondents supporting Trump’s reelection edged up from 40 percent to 42 percent, and the pro-Biden vote shrank from 49 percent to that 42 percent.
Could these shifts be due to Biden’s inability to attract much national attention during this period of pandemics and social distancing? My sense is, “To some extent.” But that still doesn’t necessarily explain the continuing gradual increase in Trump support.
Two big cautionary notes. First, when it comes to presidential election polling, because of America’s Electoral College system, what counts most are state-by-state results, not national results. Second, it’s not only still very early in the presidential cycle, but the potential for big surprises down the road seems especially great given the virus, its disastrous effects on the economy, and the wide open question of how the CCP Virus will influence voting procedures.
What does seem reasonably clear is that when it comes to the race for the CCP Virus’ effect on the White House race, the verdict might depend on whether Americans in November are more focused on the President’s initial responses, or on his performance since (assuming of course no big blunders). Much less clear is which emphasis will prevail.