Opinion: There’s A Reasonable Explanation For Why Trump’s Approval Numbers Went Up Last Week — And It’s Nothing To Fret About

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The ineptitude and general inability of President Donald Trump to function properly and appropriately in his role as chief executive were known well-before these past few weeks, but the coronavirus crisis has seemed to highlight what we’ve already understood for quite some time: if the United States ever faced a real crisis with Trump still in office, it would be a very, very bad thing.

We caught glimpses of how bad things could get before — examples include how close we almost got to nuclear war when he bragged vociferously to Kim Jong Un about the size of his “nuclear button,” or when he very nearly started a war with Iran by assassinating (perhaps illegally) their top general earlier this year.

Those events, thankfully, didn’t end up producing the worst-case scenarios that they could have ended up being. With coronavirus, however, we are slowly, but surely, headed toward disastrous outcomes.

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As of Sunday morning, there have been nearly 2,200 deaths reported as a result of COVID-19 in the U.S., and close to 125,000 cases reported — although, according to some statisticians, the number of cases could be as many as five times greater than what we know

And yet, through it all — through his insistence on calling the disease a racist name, his spending the entire month of February gloating about himself and calling any criticisms to his lackadaisical approach to the disease a “hoax,” or his promise (which has since been rescinded) that anyone who wanted a test could get one — the president’s approval rating is actually increasing at the moment.

Part of this can be explained as a “rally around the flag” mentality, the idea that, in a crisis situation, a president’s approval rating tends to increase. Nevertheless, a number progressives in my network of friends urgently asked me several times this past week: how in the hell could Trump be getting higher marks after all the failures he’s had, especially with regards to his response to coronavirus?

The answer is actually one that creates more questions than it answers: it’s Democrats that are giving him higher ratings.

Looking at two surveys in particular over the past week — the Economist/YouGov poll and the ABC News/Washington Post poll — a quick glimpse gives progressives worried about this year’s presidential race reason to feel alarmed. Both polls show an increase in Trump’s approval rating, with a 4-point increase in the Economist/YouGov poll versus February’s numbers, and a 5-point increase in the case of the ABC News/Washington Post poll compared to last month’s survey.

In the latter’s case, Trump’s approval rating is actually in the positive column, with 48 percent saying they approve of his job performance and 46 percent saying they disapprove.

Why the big jump? Looking closer at the numbers, mainly at the crosstab data, it’s a small number of Democrats who are giving Trump better numbers — though, reluctantly so, it appears.

In February’s Economist/YouGov numbers, only 7 percent of Democratic-leaning voters said they approved of Trump’s job as president. In March, that number increased to 15 percent. Of that, however, two-thirds of those giving him an “approving” job rating this month said they only “somewhat” approved of his work — perhaps indicative of the “support the president during a crisis” mentality some moderates in the Democratic Party may have.

The same pattern is noticeable in the ABC News/Washington Post poll. In February, only 6 percent gave him approving marks, while 20 percent of Dems said they approved of his job performance in March — but again, of that 20 percent, more than two-thirds said their approval was only “somewhat” (versus less than a third who said they “strongly” approved Trump’s work).

There is evidence elsewhere that independents are giving Trump higher marks, too, but their shift is less pronounced than what some Democrats are doing. So why are Democrats saying they give Trump a good grade now?

Like I said before, it could be because some (a small minority) in the Democratic Party believe any president, during a time of crisis, deserves support no matter what. It could also be that some Dems actually believe that Trump has done some good — shifting his tone early last week, for example, away from being antagonistic toward critics to recognizing the pandemic is a real and present danger.

That tone shift, of course, was short-lived. Trump scolded a reporter who dared to suggest Americans were scared about this crisis, and he’s shown more signs since then that he doesn’t intend to make his tonal changes into anything permanent.

Democrats who gave the president positive marks this past week are a minority among those in the party, but they’re also unlikely to vote for Trump when November rolls around. For starters, the fact that they said they approve of him only “somewhat” in the polls demonstrates that their approval of his work is reluctant, at best. Given the choice between Trump and a Democratic candidate for president, this small group of Democrats is likely to choose the latter 99 times out of 100, if not more often than that.

But the approval numbers aren’t likely to stick for another reason: Trump’s gotta be Trump, and he’ll inevitably ruin what little goodwill he earned these past 10 days. It’s just the kind of guy this president is — he can’t help but be a jerk, even during a national crisis, and that’s going to translate into bad grades, sooner rather than later, into his aptitude for the job he presently has.