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Has President Trump Risen to the Challenge? Ask the Polls

A Commentary By Brian C. Joondeph

Monday, April 06, 2020

Some say adversity creates character, but in reality adversity reveals character. At the highest levels of leadership, today’s challenges are massive with economies and lives riding on every decision. These are not the times that make great leaders but instead reveal them.

The nasty Chinese coronavirus has brought the world to its collective knees. The virus is called “novel,” meaning that it’s new. Public health experience with past viruses may not apply here. Doctors and nurses caring for the sickest of patients are learning on the job. Public health officials are looking at lines and charts with no historic context. Elected officials are making decisions based on the best information available at that moment, perhaps different from a few days ago and changing again in a few days’ time.

How is President Trump handling the task? Nuclear war is the fear of every president, not a real-life science fiction movie pandemic. Yet Trump is prepared for the job after running the gauntlet of investigations, illegal spying, impeachment, a hostile media and a do-nothing opposition party focused only on destroying his presidency.

What do the American people think? That is Trump’s constituency, not the coastal elites who all think they know better but would wilt under a fraction of the pressure the president faces daily.

When it comes to opinion polls, just like hurricane or virus models, who has been the most accurate in the past? Rasmussen was the most accurate pollster of 2016 in terms of the popular vote. Less accurate polls, based on their models, predicted a Hillary Clinton landslide.

Rasmussen, to its credit, polls likely voters, rather than registered voters, only about half of whom vote, or adults, an even smaller percentage of whom vote. Most polls skew the survey group, oversampling Democrats, sometimes significantly, finding false support for a Democrat viewpoint.

The Rasmussen Daily Presidential Tracking Poll during the month of March shows Trump in the high 40 percent approval range, the same as President Obama at the exact same point in his presidency. One president is presiding over a once-in-a-century viral pandemic which has shut down much of the U.S. economy, while the other president was running for reelection, backed by an adoring media. Yet they poll similarly.

If Trump was doing such a bad job today, his numbers would in the low 30s, not close to 50% where he has been for much of his first term.

Real Clear Politics combines a number of public opinion polls into an average. Its most recent results show 49.8 percent approval for the president compared to 47.7 percent disapproval.  These polls reflect the typical oversampling of Democrats meaning the real numbers are likely even higher for Trump.

Polls are a snapshot in time, the results reflecting who is being surveyed and conducted or sponsored by news organizations that would like to see nothing better than Trump’s failure and loss in November. In other words, many polls are designed to shape public opinion rather than reflect it.

One recent example is from the Associated Press. The AP headline claims, “Less than half of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.” Buried way beyond the headline is the methodology which few will bother to read.

The AP surveyed 1,057 adults, not voters, registered or otherwise, not necessarily American citizens, just whoever happens to answer the telephone. Democrats comprised 46 percent of the sample whereas Republicans comprised only 38 percent, an eight-point swing.

How informed are these voters? When asked, “How much have you heard or read about the outbreak of a new Coronavirus in December?”, only 64% answered “a lot”, while 18% responded “only a little or nothing at all”. With virtually nothing else besides the virus being talked about in the news for the past month and most of the country on lockdown, how could a representative survey sample have one-in-five respondents knowing little or nothing of this?

When 1,000 random low-information adults were asked how Trump was handling things, they approved of his handling of the economy by a 56%-43% margin, yet by a similar 55%-44% margin they disapproved of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Remember the eight-point oversampling of Democrats, and that margin becomes even less meaningful.

Perhaps the constant media drumbeat of how Trump first underreacted, then overreacted - or was it the other way around? - is contributory. Few in the media have said anything positive about the coronavirus task force, the mobilization of the private sector in a way not seen since World War Two or the transparency and availability of the president providing an hour or two per day of unfettered questions and access. Yet to the media, it’s all negative.

Shifting to election polls, Real Clear Politics, in their Election 2020 poll, has Democrat Joe Biden winning the general election by six points if the election was held today. Perhaps keeping Biden under wraps is paying dividends. In his brief appearances every few days, he cannot utter more than one coherent sentence. Compare that to Trump, holding court daily, in command of every aspect of this virus war, fielding endless questions and snark from the media without skipping a beat. Biden couldn’t get through a minute of that.

Following the money, a different type of survey, Predictit, the stock market of polls, has Trump at 47 cents, over Biden at 43 cents.

Polls have limited value in predicting an outcome seven months in the future. But they do show that even in America’s current days of darkness, Trump still has the support of many Americans, even while swimming upstream against a deluge of negativity, some from the virus itself, but most from his political opponents in the media and the Democrat party. 

Brian C. Joondeph, MD, is a Denver-based physician and freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in American Thinker, Daily Caller, Rasmussen Reports and other publications. Follow him on Facebook,  LinkedIn, Twitter and QuodVerum.

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See Other Commentaries by Brian C. Joondeph.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

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