Fear has often led us to trust authoritarian leaders in times of turmoil.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Donald Trump does something outrageous. And this isn’t just some mistake that you’re not used to from a president. This is something that was really unfathomable four years ago. So you, as someone who believes that people, particularly Americans, are a logical group, think that the human population will finally come around and see him as the disaster of a president he is. Except, surprise, his approval rating stays the same, or worse yet, RISES.
The Muslim ban, the government shutdown for border wall funding, children in cages, blackmailing Ukraine, and now his handling of Coronavirus. All of these actions are complete disgraces, but Trump’s approval rating is at a record high. After a brief downturn when Trump was diminishing the severity of the virus, the president became more serious and his favorables spiked. Fivethirtyeight has his average approval rating at 45.8% and his disapproval rating at 49.8%, which would be the first time his unfavorables are below 50% since March 2017.
As a refresher, Trump repeatedly said that the damage coronavirus experts warned of was a hoax by the Democrats and continued to spew the false notion that it would just go away. We did not and still do not have enough tests to adequately deal with the pandemic, while also telling Governors that if they request more ventilators, they can’t be mean to him and get his help. Trump has only recently put an end to his own suggestion that the country should end social distancing by Easter, as the cure should not be worse than the disease. How then, is Trump gaining support?
The answer is plain and simple is the fear Americans are feeling in this time of uncertainty. Historically, whenever a crisis hits, people address their fears by telling themselves that the person in charge is handling it well. So, if the country views the threat as an outside force, Americans rally around the current leader. George W. Bush skyrocketed to 90% approval the day after 9/11 and other presidents have seen similar rises in common opinion in times of war. Now, that bump was much greater than what we are seeing with Trump, but both hikes are driven by the feeling that the country is under attack.
This is exactly why Trump is calling himself a wartime president, battling an unseen enemy. It’s also why he’s calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus”. If the damage of Coronavirus is placed on something outside of America’s control, by an evil that is foreign to us, then Trump knows he will be given more favorability in the eyes of the public. Just months ago, we were worried Trump could start a war with Iran, but the president has been able to use coronavirus for the same purpose.
A bump now, however, does not mean that Trump is necessarily more likely to be elected or that this near positive rating will last. When compared to other world leaders, who have also received rating increases amid coronavirus, Trump’s bump is miniscule. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has risen nearly 30 points, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s and Canadian Prime Justin Trudeau’s bumps have led their underperforming approval ratings to surpass Tour president’s. Looking at how minimal Trump’s approval has shifted against the rest of the world should give those hoping to seem him ousted in November some relief. Still, just as we wait for social distancing to end and our lives to go back to normal, the true political implications are months away.