Trump’s Bout With COVID-19 Might Be Hurting His Reelection Chances

Trump’s Bout With COVID-19 Might Be Hurting His Reelection ChancesOctober 9, 2020

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

It’s been exactly one week since we learned that President Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. While it’s still hard to know what effect his diagnosis has had on the race, we do have some new polls to share; they don’t necessarily paint a consistent picture, though.

As my colleagues Geoffrey Skelley and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux wrote on Monday, polls conducted in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s diagnosis found that an overwhelming majority of Americans believed that Trump did not take the proper precautions to avoid getting sick. Newer polling agrees: For instance, CNN/SSRS found that 63 percent of Americans thought Trump acted irresponsibly in risking the health of the people around him. However, it’s not clear that this affected people’s perceptions of whether Trump could continue to govern effectively. Sixty-six percent of respondents in the poll said they weren’t concerned about the government’s ability to operate while Trump was ill.

There is some evidence, though, that Trump’s illness may be hurting his reelection chances. SurveyUSA was in the field with a national poll from Oct. 1 (before Trump announced his diagnosis) to Oct. 4 (when Trump was in the hospital), and the pollster found that Joe Biden led Trump by just 4 points in interviews conducted before Trump was hospitalized. But in interviews after Trump’s hospitalization, Biden led by 16 points. A Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll identified a similar pattern: Biden led by 5 points in interviews conducted before Trump’s diagnosis and by a shocking 21 points in interviews after it.

But not every poll showed this shift. Monmouth University, one of the best pollsters in the business, was also in the field with a Pennsylvania survey late last week, and it found that the horse race largely did not change after Trump’s diagnosis. Biden led by 12 points in interviews on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 and by 13 points in interviews from Oct. 2 to Oct. 4. Civiqs/Daily Kos, polling just after Trump’s diagnosis, asked a detailed question about how “anything in the news or in [their] daily life” might affect people’s votes, but they found that essentially no one was changing their minds.

Recent events are not changing people’s minds

Share of adults in a national Oct. 2-5 Civiqs/Daily Kos poll who gave each answer to the question, “A lot has happened in the past few weeks. Thinking back, has anything in the news or in your daily life affected how you plan to vote in the presidential election?”

Response Share
I was going to vote for Biden, and I still am 46%
I was going to vote for Trump, and I still am 40
I was going to vote for Biden, but I am reconsidering 1
I was going to vote for Trump, but I am reconsidering 1
I was going to vote for Biden, but I have changed my mind 1
I was going to vote for Trump, but I have changed my mind 1
I already voted 4
I am not going to vote 1
Unsure 5

Source: Civiqs/Daily Kos

In addition, Skelley and Thomson-DeVeaux talked to multiple political scientists who said that attitudes on the coronavirus have hardened over the past several months, especially along party lines, so a big shift in public opinion is unlikely. Not to mention, a solid majority of Americans already believed that Trump was mishandling the pandemic; to them, his illness may merely serve as confirmation of what they already believed, whereas Trump’s defenders may not be inclined to change their minds since he has downplayed his illness. Indeed, our tracker of Trump’s approval rating on the coronavirus hasn’t budged since last week — and it is still heavily split by party.

But these surveys are far from the final word. Trump’s illness is an incredibly fluid story, and public opinion may change if his condition worsens — or depending on the actions he takes now that he’s sick.

For instance, this week alone, he briefly left the hospital to wave to well-wishers from an enclosed car with Secret Service agents; tweeted, “Don’t be afraid of Covid”; returned to the White House after only three days of hospitalization; and took his mask off before stepping inside. And these actions were pretty unpopular. For example, Americans told YouGov, 62 percent to 28 percent, that it was inappropriate for Trump to leave the hospital to wave to supporters. And Morning Consult/Politico found that 60 percent of registered voters said Trump was wrong to tell Americans not to be afraid of COVID-19, whereas only 28 percent said he was right. Finally, by a 56 percent to 29 percent margin, Americans said it was a bad idea for him to discharge himself from the hospital and return to the White House, according to a separate YouGov poll.

Trump’s illness could also have a domino effect on the rest of the campaign. For instance, it appears as though the next two debates will be delayed by a week instead of a virtual debate being held on Oct. 15. But according to Morning Consult/Politico, a virtual format is actually a fairly popular solution, at least when compared with the alternatives. In a poll conducted before the announcement, 41 percent of voters thought the rest of the debates should be held virtually, versus only 12 percent who wanted the debates to be canceled or delayed. Thirty-six percent of voters thought the debates should be held in person, either indoors (16 percent) or out (20 percent).

Other polling bites

  • It looks like Trump’s rollout of Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court has been pretty successful. Despite people’s belief that the current Supreme Court vacancy should not be filled before the election, registered voters told YouGov/HuffPost, 43 percent to 38 percent, that they would like their senators to vote in favor of Barrett. And respondents approved of Trump’s decision to appoint Barrett, 47 percent to 42 percent. Similarly, Morning Consult/Politico found 46 percent of voters in favor of confirming Barrett, with only 31 percent opposed. And in a shift from late September, a plurality of voters now say Barrett should be confirmed as soon as possible.
  • On Tuesday, Trump announced that he was cutting off negotiations over a new coronavirus relief bill and that nothing would be passed before the election. But Morning Consult/Politico finds that this tactic could play poorly with the American public. Sixty-eight percent of registered voters said “stimulating the economy to recover from COVID-19” should be a top priority for Congress. Thirty-two percent of respondents blamed Trump for the breakdown in negotiations, and another 23 percent blamed Republicans in Congress; 35 percent, however, blamed congressional Democrats.
  • A new University of North Florida poll finds a close race for Florida’s Amendment 3, which would implement a top-two primary system (similar to California’s and Washington’s) in the Sunshine State. Likely voters said 58 percent to 36 percent that they would vote for the amendment, but it requires 60 percent in order to pass.
  • The pandemic could make for an eerily quiet Halloween. According to a Leger poll, only 54 percent of Americans whose children went trick-or-treating last year said they would allow their kids to go door to door this year. Meanwhile, 43 percent of Americans said that governments should proactively cancel Halloween this year.
  • Now this is a good icebreaker question for parties: On Monday, YouGov asked Americans, “How many enemies, if any, do you have?” Forty-four percent of respondents said they had no enemies, 5 percent said they had one enemy, 8 percent said they had two or three and 2 percent said they had four or five. A concerning 4 percent of Americans said they have five or more enemies. The remaining 36 percent were like, “WTF, YouGov?” (read: they said they didn’t know).

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,1 43.2 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.2 points). At this time last week, 43.9 percent approved and 52.8 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -8.9 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 43.1 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.6 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,2 Democrats currently lead by 6.5 percentage points (49.3 percent to 42.8 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.1 points (48.8 percent to 42.7 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 7.2 points (48.7 percent to 41.4 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

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