Is there a "COVID effect" on Trump's polling in hard-hit battleground states?

Is there a "COVID effect" on Trump's polling in hard-hit battleground states?

The question in the headline is interesting, but here’s a more interesting one: Assuming there is a “COVID effect” on Trump’s polling in hard-hit battleground states, will it abate as the the epidemic in those states abates? We’re bound to see the curves in Arizona and Texas and Florida start to flatten sometime between now and Election Day. Bars are already closed, a mask mandate is in effect in TX, lockdowns will inevitably follow soon if case counts don’t begin to drop. By hook or by crook, at some as yet unknown cost in lives, the spread will slow down in those states.


If voters there have soured on the president now, with the epidemic raging, will they turn sweeter once it calms down or will they hold a grudge? And by “grudge,” I mean not so much hard feelings as a durable political conclusion that Trump wasn’t up to the task of managing the crisis and should be held accountable for that even if the worst has already passed by the time polls open in November.

The presidency may depend on the answer.


Anyway, this is interesting data from Pew, via Bloomberg:



Pew Research Center polls show Trump’s approval is slipping fastest in the 500 counties where the number of cases have been more than 28 coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people.


Pew surveyed voters in late March and the same people again in late June, and found 17% of those who approved of the president in March now disapprove.


The shift came almost equally among Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and college graduates and non-graduates. But those who live in counties with a high number of virus cases were 50% more likely to say they no longer approve of Trump.


And older voters, who have typically trended conservative and have backed Trump in the past, are abandoning him at the same time the virus hits those ages 65 and older the hardest.



I don’t have the county data in front of me, but eyeballing the state head-to-head polls between Trump and Biden, I don’t see any noticeable decline in Texas and Arizona over the past month. Texas had been neck-and-neck before its outbreak started and it looks to be neck-and-neck now. And Arizona has been pretty steadily pro-Biden dating back to March, when he all but locked up the Democratic nomination, months before COVID-19 burned through.


Florida’s more interesting. Biden didn’t lead by as much as seven points in any poll there until June 12, when he suddenly ripped off a series of leads by seven, nine, and 11 points in three different surveys. Hmmmm. Evidence, perhaps, that the state and its unusually high percentage of seniors might be blaming Trump for the rises in cases there? It’s not so clear-cut when you look deeper: The last few polls of Florida have been tighter even though case counts have continued to skyrocket. And Florida’s epidemic didn’t really start to explode until the last week of June, after the polling showing Biden’s biggest leads.


Even more mysterious: Trump’s long decline in national polling began in mid-May, long before the current wave of COVID-19 got going in the Sun Belt. I think it’s more likely that he started to lose people with how he reacted to the George Floyd protests and then, perhaps, the rising COVID case counts across the south and in California accelerated the trend by deepening the sense that he just has no idea what to do to try to contain the virus. More to the point, he seems to have no interest: His focus since April has been on reopening the economy come hell or high water, at whatever cost.


According to NBC and WaPo, the White House is preparing to go all-in on that perception. Their new message to a frightened country is, apparently, to get used to a raging epidemic of a virus that’s already killed 120,000 people.



After several months of mixed messages on the coronavirus pandemic, the White House is settling on a new one: Learn to live with it


At the crux of the message, officials said, is a recognition by the White House that the virus is not going away any time soon — and will be around through the November election.


As a result, President Donald Trump’s top advisers plan to argue, the country must figure out how to press forward despite it. Therapeutic drugs will be showcased as a key component for doing that and the White House will increasingly emphasize the relatively low risk most Americans have of dying from the virus, officials said.



The Post puts it memorably: “White House officials also hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day,” believing that if the feds just stop talking about it, “the base will move on and the public will learn to accept 50,000 to 100,000 new cases a day.” That reads like a parody of Trump’s belief that all political problems are messaging problems and that he can control everything that threatens him simply by the way he talks about it.


Team Biden reportedly intends to use “the stumbling response and renewed surge in cases as ways to paint Trump as uninformed, incapable of empathy and concerned only about his own political standing.” No joke: If Trump gets reelected running on a “learn to live with it” message about a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, at a moment when our European allies have hammered down their case counts to practically nothing, it’ll be the political feat of the century. Not even his first election will rival it. To surrender on the health-care challenge of the age when Americans know full well from foreign experience that it can be managed effectively and win a second term anyway — it’d be one of the most amazing electoral achievements the country has ever seen. Imagine running on a campaign slogan of “Try to grow numb to it” and winning.


They are going to do one thing beyond encouraging people to get used to COVID misery. That’s to encourage more mask-wearing.



White House officials are discussing taking a more active role in encouraging masks as they shift to a strategy of preparing Americans to live long-term with the virus. After appearing at a string of events without social distancing and where masks were scarce, Trump’s campaign said Sunday it would host a New Hampshire campaign rally where attendees will be “provided a face mask that they are strongly encouraged to wear.”…


Many of Trump’s closest allies now say in private that wearing a mask in public could help him appear more attuned to the crisis. They fear his failure to do so — and to encourage his supporters to follow suit — could threaten the economic recovery Trump is counting on to fuel his reelection, because further outbreaks could roll back the reopenings he desperately needs to have a chance in November.



That same point was made by critics of early reopening since the moment Trump first started pushing the idea in April. If you reopen without measures in place to help keep the virus in check, you risk a second wave that’ll trigger new lockdowns and potentially erase all the economic gains you’ve made. It’s nice that they’ve come around in July to the reality that containing the virus and rebuilding the economy isn’t an either/or choice but rather a sequential process, but it would have been nicer in April. As I say, the truly interesting question in battleground states is whether Trump will be forgiven for mistakes like that or whether the cake is baked at this point and even a comparatively good outcome over the next four months won’t save him in November.


Here’s the mayor of Miami-Dade laying some blame for Florida’s outbreak at the feet of anti-racist protesters. Officials in Seattle and L.A. also told Fox News that the protests were likely responsible for some transmissions, although NYC’s extremely woke government continues to deny any role played by the demonstrators there. In lieu of an exit question, go read this thread by former Trump advisor Tom Bossert, who guesstimates that infections in hot-spot states right now are far more prevalent than our testing shows — and beyond a certain threshold of prevalence, it becomes very difficult to put those fires out. “We are in trouble,” Bossert says ominously. Maybe my assurance that things will surely be under control in Arizona et al. by November is misplaced.