Public Opinion on Coronavirus: Navigator Daily

Welcome to NAVIGATOR – a project designed to better understand the American public’s views on issues of the day and help advocates, elected officials, and other interested parties understand the language, imagery, and messaging needed to make and win key policy arguments. 

This is a dynamic time, and as a result, Navigator will transition to a daily tracking poll on the coronavirus crisis. For the foreseeable future, we will be tracking public opinion every weekday, releasing on a Tuesday-Saturday schedule. In addition, future editions will provide more messaging guidance to the progressive community. 

This inaugural edition of our daily tracking release features findings from a national online survey of 1,012 registered voters conducted March 21-24, 2020 and a national online survey of 1,038 registered voters conducted March 20-23, 2020.

Key Takeaways

  • Americans believe the president has been “unprepared” and “chaotic” in his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • As it stands today, the public is more troubled by Trump’s lack of preparation and early mistakes than his current response to the pandemic.
  • Effective communication speaks to frustrations with Trump’s early inaction and connects it to present consequences and fallout.
  • For now, Trump’s approval rating on the coronavirus response is positive, while his overall approval rating is underwater.

Americans feel the president’s response to coronavirus has been “unprepared” and “chaotic.” They also say it has been “serious” – but not quite “presidential.”

Americans largely feel Trump is “unprepared” and give him low marks for being “honest.” When presented with a series of words and asked to select which best describes Trump’s handling of coronavirus, “unprepared” emerges as the top descriptor, with 61% saying it applies to the president’s response. Other top words include “chaotic” (54%) and “erratic” (49%), which are themes the public has registered about the Trump presidency in previous Navigator surveys. On the other hand, “serious” emerges as the second most chosen word (57%), though fewer than half see his handling as “competent” (46%), “presidential” (49%), or “honest” (46%).

Right now, the public is more troubled by Trump’s lack of preparation and early mistakes than they are by his current response to the pandemic.

Americans fault the Trump administration for its early response to the crisis. When asked what concerns them most about Trump’s actions related to coronavirus, more Americans (43%) choose “Trump was unprepared and made mistakes early on in the crisis that let it grow into a bigger problem” than say Trump’s current actions (23%), while another 34% say neither. That margin is especially large among independents (52% say early mistakes, 18% say current actions).  

Trump’s early inaction and downplaying of the threat are the top concerns currently held by Americans, while the idea that Trump is not “doing enough” right now is lower on the list. Navigator presented respondents with statements about Trump’s response to the pandemic and asked which they found concerning. While every criticism raises “serious concerns” for a majority of Americans, the top three revolve around Trump’s lack of preparedness, including downplaying the threat early on which let it get worse (56% serious concerns) and failing to take decisive action early in the pandemic (57%). Americans are just slightly less concerned about issues relating to present mismanagement (51%). On a related issue, many show more confidence in their state and local government’s handling of the crisis (48%) than in the Trump administration and federal government (35%).

As the crisis continues, progressives need to hold Trump accountable for what is happening now by reminding Americans of the role he played in how we got here.

While Americans express greater concerns about Trump’s early mistakes, communicating about current failures due to past missteps can help hold the administration responsible. Americans are especially worried about the danger medical professionals now face because of a shortage of protective gear (72% serious concerns) and the failure of the U.S. to keep up with the pace of testing and preparation in other countries (70%). These are two examples of important and compelling ways to connect past mistakes to present consequences.

So far, President Trump receives a positive approval rating for the coronavirus response, but he remains underwater on his overall job performance.

While several criticisms of the administration’s response resonate with Americans, Trump’s rating on handling the coronavirus pandemic remains positive for now. A slight majority approve of his handling of the pandemic (52% approve; 43% disapprove). This rating is higher than the 46% who approve of the job he is doing as president generally (51% disapprove). A key driver in Trump’s approval on coronavirus is greater approval from Democrats: 23% of Democrats approve of his handling of it, as do 25% of Democratic women and 35% of non-liberal Democrats. When it comes to views of Trump’s presidency in general, just 12% of Democrats approve.