Relax, Everyone: Trump’s Approval Rating ‘Bump’ Isn’t What You Think It Is

During a national crisis, leaders of governments of any nation tend to see their approval ratings go up — and the same is true right now for President Donald Trump.

That “rally around the flag” mentality has many people worried, especially in an election year where his removal would have meant a great deal of good for the country (not necessarily because the alternative candidates were hugely better, but because Trump’s absence from the White House would be a net positive, no matter who replaced him). 

The White House/Wikimedia

Trump has proven himself incapable to lead, in many people’s minds, even during the very same coronavirus crisis that is notching his approval rating up a few points. So why are his numbers going up?

Everyone who is concerned about the president’s sudden rise in the polls should take a deep breath — Trump isn’t gaining new voters, but rather some Democratic voters are conceding he’s doing a somewhat OK job at leading. In other words, his rise in approval is being driven primarily by those on the left…by voters who won’t be voting for him anyway come November.

Consider the two most recent ABC News/Washington Post monthly polls, from just this past week and the one before it in February. In this month’s poll, Trump has a net approval rating of +2 points (48 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove). In last month’s reading of the poll, he stood at a net -10 points (43 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove).

Without delving into the numbers too deeply, for anyone worried about what’s to come in November, those numbers are indeed scary. But looking into the crosstabs data of the numbers reveals that not much has actually changed, save for some Democrats’ opinions.

From February to March, Trump’s numbers among Republican-leaning voters didn’t change at all — in both months, he had an 84 percent approval rating among that group of voters, and a nearly-identical disapproval rating (14 percent March, 13 percent February). Among independent voters, there wasn’t substantial change, either — his approval rating went up by a mere 3 percentage points.

But a look at the Democratic-leaning voters’ numbers shows a substantial change. While 75 percent of Democrats disapproved of Trump’s job performance in March, that number was up to 92 percent in February. His approval rating went up as well: 6 percent of Dems approved of Trump’s work in February, versus 20 percent who did in March.

So what does this all mean? Trump’s approval rating hike is indicative of a Democratic voting base that is conceding he’s doing some good things, like showing support for a relief bill that gives thousands of dollars to American workers, for example. 

That rise in approval ratings, however, shouldn’t be seen as a sudden “conversion” of Democrats to the president’s camp: among those who approve of Trump now, only 6 percent of Democratic-leaning voters say they strongly approved of his work, while 14 percent said they only “somewhat” approved.

In short, the president remains unpopular, and still faces an uphill battle in winning re-election. Indeed, in the Real Clear Politics average of polling data pitting him against Democratic contender Joe Biden, the incumbent president is still losing, on average, by about 7 points nationally, as of Friday morning.

Don’t freak out about Trump’s sudden rise in the polls…at least, for the time being.

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