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OP-ED: The president and the virus

  • Published at 03:20 pm July 4th, 2020
Photo: Reuters

What the polls are saying about Trump’s chances

In south Florida where I live, the beautiful beaches are normally filled with suntanned shoppers buying barbecue supplies. These happy places are now sites of men fighting among themselves. There is an ongoing fisticuff between those wearing masks for safety and bare-faced consumers throwing down their groceries in outraged disgust.

Americans are watching with anguish as the nation grapples with systemic racism, but also upset over protesters defacing statues representing the country’s worst racist sin, slavery.

Nowadays, people are anxious about the economy, slowed by the pandemic, but are fearful of what may happen in the event of an unbridled spread of the coronavirus. Strong majorities of voters think President Donald Trump doesn’t care about people like them, and is neither honest and trustworthy, nor bringing the nation together.

Any joy former vice president Joe Biden may feel over his lead in polls is tempered by the fact that strong majorities of his voters are motivated more by ousting Trump than sending Biden to the Oval Office.

Add it all up, the Pew Survey has found that just 12% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the country. Further, 71% describe themselves as “angry,” 66% as “fearful,” and -- just days before the nation’s 144th anniversary of independence -- just 17% call themselves “proud.”

Another group of pollsters, Politico/Morning Consult, has found a similar trend. A survey released this week found that three out of four people surveyed think the country is on the wrong track, compared to 25% who believe things are going in the right direction. The 50-point gap is the widest since Trump became president, the poll found.

And that is never good news for an incumbent president, since it’s not helpful to be in the driver’s seat when the car is headed off a cliff. But for Trump, the numbers are more damaging, since Americans are blaming him personally for the dismal state of the union, pollsters say.

People are unhappy with the direction of the country, says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, who conducted a survey for Protect Our Care, released Wednesday, finding that 73% of Americans believe the nation is on the wrong track. “It’s that (they are saying) the person in the Oval Office is responsible for this, and they’re blaming him for letting it get this bad.

“Donald Trump is not just this innocent bystander, being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Garin adds. “Trump is seen as the perpetrator. And that is politically damning."

The Protect our Country poll, for example, has indicated that 57% believe Trump is increasing the chances that many more people will die from coronavirus, and 53%, including a fourth of Republicans, think Trump is pushing states to re-open so he can improve his own re-election chances, the poll found.

Samara Klar, a professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Government and Public Policy, says that while there has been a partisan divide over the question of whether to re-open businesses or maintain restrictions to stem the spread of the virus, the gap narrows as the coronavirus caseload increases.

In the low-case Arizona counties, Republicans are “significantly less concerned about coronavirus than are Democrats, and are less supportive of policies to control the pandemic,” Klar says, citing a working paper she is completing with several colleagues.

“In high-case counties, Republicans and Democrats are, on average, equally concerned and equally supportive of measures to control the spread,” she says.

And that could be pivotal in Arizona, the longtime GOP stronghold which is now a battleground state and where cases of coronavirus are spiking, she says.

Biden, meanwhile, isn’t generating overwhelming excitement -- except in his role as Trump’s potential replacement. Should Biden become commander-in-chief, Pew found, voters believe he will be an “average” president. With the country in a collective funk, that may spell victory for someone less than extraordinary.

Nazarul Islam is an educator based in Chicago.

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