President Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been slammed by the mainstream media, with certain networks opting not to air his daily press briefings due to “misinformation.” But polls say the public disagrees.
The Washington Post has been fiercely critical of Trump since long before his election. Yet as the paper described his administration as barrelling “toward calamity” this week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll recorded Trump’s highest ever approval rating, with 48 percent of respondents giving the president the thumbs-up, compared to 46 percent disapproving.
That’s the first time Trump has scored positively on the Post’s poll, but when it comes to his handling of the ongoing pandemic which has killed more than 1,300 Americans thus far, the president’s results are even better. Fifty-one percent approve of his stewardship, while 45 percent don’t.
The results are played out across the board. Polls from Fox News, the Economist, Reuters, Gallup, Emerson and Axios all show positive results for Trump. Gallup’s poll found that 60 percent of Americans support Trump’s response to the crisis, while only 38 percent disapprove. Trump’s handling of the crisis has translated into a record high job approval rating in an average of national polls.
Yet the media tells a different story. President Trump’s daily press briefings are – to quote one NPR station in Seattle – so full of “false or misleading information” that the station will no longer air them.
Staff at CNN and MSNBC have reportedly pleaded with network bosses to drop coverage of the briefings, and the New York Times ran a column on Thursday wondering aloud “should networks cover them?” Individual news personalities have excoriated the president for allegedly spreading baloney. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said on her show this week that if Trump “keeps lying…it’s going to cost lives.”
But the public isn’t listening. The same Gallup poll whose respondents rated Trump at 60 percent found that out of all the institutions responding to the pandemic, Americans rated the news media the worst, with only 44 percent of Americans expressing any trust in it. Even Congress, a perennially unpopular institution in these kinds of surveys, scored higher than the media.
Trump’s bump in popularity can possibly be explained by the “wartime president” effect. In times of great crisis, the electorate tends to put partisan politics aside and rally around their leader. At least that’s how the theory goes. No US president has ever lost a re-election bid during wartime, and Trump has certainly attempted to portray the Covid-19 pandemic as a warlike situation. Describing the virus as an “invisible enemy,” Trump told reporters last week that “I view it as a, in a sense, a wartime president.” Whether Trump manages to keep the public on side as the death toll climbs, however, depends on his actions in the coming weeks.
The public’s falling trust in the media is a slightly more difficult trend to explain. The public’s confidence in journalism has been falling for the better part of a decade, yet the current crisis seems to have exacerbated the downward trend. For one thing, the general public could be tired of the media crying wolf too many times. Rachel Maddow, for instance, raised concern about Trump’s “misinformation,” yet cable news viewers will remember Maddow’s own spreading of bogus ‘Russiagate’ conspiracies during the first three years of Trump’s presidency.
Likewise, the public expects reporters to hold their leaders to account. Given the gravity of the coronavirus situation, the media could be grilling Trump on any number of issues, from his plan to reopen the American economy in a matter of weeks, to the breakdown of the $2 trillion stimulus bill he may sign shortly, to his reluctance to actually enforce the Defense Production Act to manufacture vital medical equipment.
Yet when reporters choose to scold Trump for “racism” instead, the general public learns nothing new.
Trump’s gripes with the media are long-standing. However, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic seems to be winning more and more Americans over to his side.