Where’s the Bottom?

Trump’s downward slide continues at an alarming pace.

Illustration by Peter Grabowski.

Remember March?

Before the lockdowns and restrictions. Before the death.

Trump remembers March too. Overall, it was a great month for him politically. He matched his best approval rating of his presidency at 49%, according to Gallup. While still technically a minority of voters, this solid foundation coupled with an electoral college edge might have been enough to push his re-election effort across the finish line.

Even better, for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, voters awarded him a 60% approval rating, which is fairly high for a historically divisive president.

Certainly, a portion of this temporary boost can be attributed to the “rally ‘round the flag” effect. This political phenomenon occurs when a nation is under siege — like with the coronavirus — and temporarily supports its leader.

Since Roosevelt, every president has experienced at least one double digit boost in the polls following a significant event. Bush received the largest ever “rally ‘round the flag” moment — a whopping 35 point jump immediately after 9/11, according to Gallup.

Recently, this effect has been much more muted. Obama received a seven point and five point spike after the killing of Bin Laden and the Sandy Hook massacre, respectively. Trump’s biggest short term boost was also seven points. As the nation becomes more politically divided, even normally unifying events are drained of their power. Partisanship claims yet another victim.

While the “rally ‘round the flag” effect can be quite potent, it is also short lasting. After a few months of steady decline, Trump is bottoming out in the polls. His approval rating over his handling of the pandemic currently sits at 32%, roughly half of what it was in March. His overall approval also fell, from 49% in March to 38% now.

It’s no surprise that voters have started to abandon the president. Even if you were to excuse the verbal gaffes, such as wishing an accused child sex trafficker well wishes during a coronavirus briefing, the situation on the ground remains dire.

There are over four and a quarter million confirmed cases in the United States alone. As of this writing, about 150,000 Americans have died. Only one state, Arizona, is currently seeing a substantial decline in cases. A handful of states are steady, and 36 states are seeing rising cases.

Yesterday, the United States confirmed 78,427 new cases. Europe as a continent added about 15,000 new infections.

Trump’s coronavirus approval rating was cut in half in just a few months. With over three months to go before the election, just how much lower could it realistically get?

I would argue Trump’s floor is about 20–22%.

In the same poll that registered Trump’s overall approval rating at 38%, about one fifth or 20% of respondents said that the country was “headed in the right direction.” For polls that differentiate between “strongly approving” or “somewhat approving” of the president, a sticky 20–22% of voters consistently respond “strongly approving.”

Polls aside, watch Republicans, as politicians are creatures of self-preservation. Recently, a growing number of senators have begun to distance themselves from the president. They are not doing this out of some newfound sense of morality. Rather, they view the benefits of appearing independent or pro-science as outweighing the costs of crossing the president.

Trump’s base is remarkable consistent, across polls and time periods. His coronavirus approval rating is therefore unlikely to halve again, but there is some political wiggle room to continue its march southward.

political science researcher. former valedictorian. reader/writer. host of “Politics Mostly” podcast.

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