Has the Coronavirus Hurt Donald Trump’s Reelection Chances?

April 14, 2020

With the economy tanking and the coronavirus’ deaths rising, some insiders are beginning to wonder if President Trump’s reelection chances are declining. The Tampa Bay Times recently polled a 160 political insiders and 80% said the Coronavirus has hurt Trump’s chances for another four years in the White House.

To be candid, my own impression of the crisis coincides with these insiders. Trump has made the economy his silver bullet. But as I look from out of my home office window, isolated from the virus world, I wonder if there is an economy anymore and if it will come back by the November.

In addition, his handing of the virus crisis is under attack every day by both the media and the Democrats. Although the President hold’s a TV show every afternoon, even Republicans are wondering if these “press conferences” are hurting or helping his election chances.

But is the Covid-19 virus really hurting him at this point in the election cycle? A recent post in FiveThiryEight (April 14) showed that 47.7% approved of his handling of the crisis, while 48.5% disapproved.

Many of your know my affection for the President’s Job Approval rating as a metric of the President’s popularity. It’s importance is highlighted by the fact that no incumbent president since World War 2 has ever won reelection with an approval rating below 50%. That applies, of course, only to approval ratings just before the election.

Some pollsters have noted a slight rise in Trump’s rating near the end of March, but it quickly returned to its’ mean (around 45%) soon after. Some have attributed this bump to what political scientists call the “rally around the flag” effect, which often occurs around periods of crisis.

So to see if the virus crisis and the economy’s collapse has hurt or helped Trump’s approval rating, I collected 47 days of approval ratings as posted on Real Clear Politics and FiveThirtyEight for every day since January 3. At least one approval poll occurred on each day, with most days having at least 3 to 4 surveys with this metric. When more than one poll occurred on a day, I averaged the rating of all polls for that day.

To determine if there were differences from days before the first virus case and those approval ratings after the US cases started occurring, I split the data into two samples: pre-coronavirus and post-virus periods. The pre-virus cases will act as our control group. (January 3-March 3)

Our control group (pre-virus period) has a job approval mean of 44.2%. The mean for the post-virus group is 45.7%, or a 1.5% difference. To determine if this difference is significant, I used Analysis of the Variance (ANOVA) which is used to determine if there are differences between two groups (pre-virus vs. post-virus). A graphical representation of how similar these two series look like are shown in Chart 1 below.

Chart 1: pre-virus pols (red line) and post -virus polls (blue line)

The ANOVA results shows that the statistical difference is not significant (.675) between the two groups. In other words, there is no difference between the polls before the virus epidemic and those conducted after the Covid-19 cases and deaths became public in the US.

This result also negates the idea that there was a significant bump in Trump’s Job Approval when the initial covid-19 cases occurred that many have suggested was a “rally around the flag” effect. It was just a random bleep.

All of this surprises me, but has confirmed my inability to find trends in Trump’s job rating as the number of new cases rose. Initially, in times of crisis, voters generally support their elected leaders. That has not happened here. As the crisis worsens, voters often recant their initial approval. That hasn’t happened yet either, and I’m not sure it ever will.

My only explanation is that the Trump base is made of granite. And the non-Trump group’s negative ratings are not abating either. Each side has made up their mind and even an endorsement from the Lord Himself isn’t going to change people’s opinions. God Bless…

By Jim Kane

Jim Kane is a pollster and media advisor, and was for fifteen years an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida. Kane is founder of the polling firm USAPoll and served as the Director of the Florida Voter Poll. His political clients have included both Republican and Democratic candidates, including the Republican Party of Florida, and both the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel newspapers. At the University of Florida, Professor Kane taught graduate level courses in political science on Survey Research, Lobbying and Special Interest Groups in America, Political Campaigning, and Political Behavior. In addition to his professional and academic career, Jim Kane has been actively involved in local and state policy decisions. He was elected to the Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Board (1978-1982) and the Port Everglades Authority (1988-1994). Kane also served as an appointed member of the Broward County Planning Council (1995-2003), Broward County Management Review Committee (Chair, 1990-1991), Broward County Consumer Protection Board (1976-1982), and the Broward County School Board Consultants Review Committee (1986-1990).

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