Public health officials almost universally agree that the best way to keep coronavirus deaths to a minimum is for Americans to stay at home as much as possible. Yet President Donald Trump keeps wanting to reopen the economy as he tries to weigh economic health and public health.
A look at the polling data reveals, however, why he may want to err on the side of keeping folks at home.
Normally, presidential elections depend a lot on the state of the economy. Trump has to be seeing the economy shedding jobs and has to know the economy has historically been linked to a president’s re-election hopes. I, myself, made the connection just last week.
And indeed, the percentage of voters who think the economy is getting worse skyrocketed to 60% in the latest Quinnipiac University poll. That’s up from 28% at the beginning of March. When this many voters think the economy is getting worse historically, incumbents almost always lose.
The same poll, however, found that Trump’s approval rating on the economy is 51%. This is no different than the average of Quinnipiac polls taken since May 2019. Voters, it seems, are not for the moment blaming Trump for any economic downturn.
This lack of attribution follows a general pattern we’ve seen throughout Trump’s presidency. In fact, it’s a trend dating back to Barack Obama’s administration. Both of their approval ratings changed little, even as consumer sentiment moved around. For most presidents, there’s a clear correlation.
Putting aside Obama and Trump, we see that voters are willing to forgive economic downturns in times of crisis. Think back to 2002. George W. Bush’s Republican Party did exceedingly well in that year’s midterms, even as the unemployment rate was hovering around its highest rate from 1995 to 2007.
Meanwhile, everything we see in the polling data suggests that almost no one thinks that we need to reopen the economy right now. In a Fox News poll this week, 80% of voters nationwide say they would favor the federal government announcing a stay at home order for everybody but essential workers. You usually can’t get 80% of voters to agree upon anything, and the 80% is certainly higher than the approval Trump is getting for his handling of the coronavirus.
Voters aren’t concerned Trump is being too proactive. If anything, they think he is being too cautious. The same Fox News poll showed that a mere 4% of voters thought Trump was overreacting to the virus. That compares with 47% who think he isn’t taking the virus seriously enough.
What you need to know about stay-at-home orders
Americans expect to have disruption to their lives for a good while longer. Most voters, 75%, in the Fox News poll believe the worst of the epidemic is yet to come. An ABC News/Ipsos poll found that the vast majority of Americans (91%) have had their daily routines interrupted by the virus, and a majority of those (56%) don’t expect their routines to get back to normal until at least July.
The point is that there’s a lot in the data to indicate that Americans want the President to focus most on the public health issue at hand more so than they are worried about him fixing the economy right now. If people are allowed to go about their normal routine too soon and the number of coronavirus cases rise afterward, there’s a good case to be made that’s far more dangerous to Trump’s reelection chances than a bad economy.