WASHINGTON — Americans are deeply unhappy about the state of their country — and a majority think President Donald Trump is exacerbating tensions in a moment of national crisis, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
With less than five months until Election Day, the survey offers few bright spots for a president confronting a historic pandemic, a sharp economic decline and national outrage over police brutality against black people. Most Americans — including 63% of Republicans — say the country is heading in the wrong direction. And close to two-thirds — including 37% of Republicans — say Trump is making America more divided.
“Instead of bringing us all together, he’s pulling us all apart,” said Donna Oates, a 63-year-old retiree from Chino, California.
Oates said she was a Republican until March, when her mounting frustration with Trump and the GOP prompted her to change her voter registration to the Democratic Party. Trump’s tenure, she said, has made her “dread getting up to turn on the TV and see any of the news.”
That pessimism poses reelection challenges for Trump in his face-off against Democrat Joe Biden. Presidents seeking four more years in office typically rely on voters being optimistic about the direction the country is headed and eager to stay the course — a view most Americans don’t currently hold.
Just 24% say the country is headed in the right direction, down from 33% a month ago and 42% in March. That’s when the COVID-19 pandemic began taking hold in the U.S., killing nearly 120,000 Americans to date and upending most aspects of daily life.
Overall, 37% of Americans say they approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak — a dip from 44% in March.
The fallout from the pandemic has been sweeping. Beyond the public health risks, the economy suffered from a sudden jolt as states implemented strict stay-at-home orders. Though some of those restrictions have started to ease and businesses in many places are now beginning to open, the unemployment rate still sits at 13.3%.
The nation has also been jarred by the deaths of George Floyd and other black Americans at the hands of police, which prompted protests across the nation. Trump responded aggressively to the protests, some of which became violent, and vowed to send the active-duty military into states that couldn’t contain the demonstrations. The Pentagon publicly opposed that step and it was never carried out.
Trump’s overall approval rating during this moment of tremendous upheaval sits at 39%. Though that’s down slightly from the 43% who approved of his job performance in February and March, it’s well within the narrow range where his ratings have stayed throughout his time in office. That suggests that the president’s most enthusiastic supporters have remained loyal throughout the pandemic and other crises.
The president’s strongest ratings continue to center on the economy, as has been the case throughout his tenure. About half of Americans say they approve of Trump’s handling of the economy.
Still, that’s down somewhat from 56% approval in March — a warning sign to Trump, who planned to run for reelection on a booming economy, that Americans are attuned to the shifting economic landscape. Even with the dip in the unemployment rate as some businesses reopen, economic forecasts for the rest of the year remain uncertain, particularly as new virus hot spots emerge. Trump’s economic argument has shifted to focus on promises about what the nation’s financial situation could look like in 2021 if he’s given a second term in office.
The protests over police brutality against black Americans have proven to be a particularly searing moment for the nation, as well as Trump’s presidency. And he gets low marks for his handling of them.
A majority of Americans — 54% — say Trump has made things worse during the unrest following the death of Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes. Seventy-two percent of black Americans and 51% of white Americans think Trump has made things worse following Floyd’s death.
Floyd’s death has prompted a broad discussion about the legacy of racism in America, with business leaders acknowledging inequality in the workplace, prominent brands reconsidering names rooted in racial stereotypes and statues of Confederate figures being taken down across the country.
Trump has expressed sadness over Floyd’s death and backed some efforts to reform policing. But he’s also questioned how systemic racism is in America and suggested that inequalities can largely be addressed by boosting the economy. Just 32% of Americans say they approve of Trump’s handling of race relations, while 67% disapprove.
Views of Trump are particularly negative among black Americans, a group that votes overwhelmingly for Democrats, but one with which the president has been focused on boosting his support ahead of November.
About 9 in 10 black Americans disapprove of how Trump is handling his job overall, and roughly the same percentage disapprove of how he is handling race relations. Among white Americans, 45% approve of how Trump is handling his job overall and 37% approve of how he’s handling race relations.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,310 adults was conducted June 11-15 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.