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Trump’s Handling of COVID-19 Is Creating Headwinds for November

Mark Baldassare June 18, 2020
photo - White House

The top issue facing the people of California today is the coronavirus outbreak, according to California’s likely voters. How state and federal leaders respond to this unprecedented crisis will be on voters’ minds when they cast ballots in the November election. In the May PPIC Statewide Survey, we find that widespread voter disapproval of Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic is creating headwinds not only for the incumbent president but also for Republican candidates in House elections.

Californians often rally around their leaders during a crisis. But voters’ current reviews of state and federal officials is a study in contrasts. Governor Gavin Newsom’s approval rating for handling the coronavirus outbreak is at a stunning 69% among likely voters in our May survey, while his overall approval increased by 12 points since earlier this year (52% February PPIC survey, 64% May PPIC survey).

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s disapproval rating for handling the coronavirus outbreak is at a surprisingly high 65% among likely voters, while his overall disapproval rating is statistically unchanged (63% February PPIC survey, 65% May PPIC survey).

Figure - Majority of Likely Voters Disapprove of President Trump’s Handing of the Coronavirus Outbreak

There is remarkable consensus when it comes to Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Majorities across the state’s major regional, racial/ethnic, age, education, and income groups say they disapprove. Partisans are deeply divided (81% Republicans approve, 89% Democrats disapprove), while 54% of independents disapprove.

If the presidential election were held today, 57% of likely voters would vote for Joe Biden and 33% would vote for Donald Trump. Trump’s electoral support (33%) is very similar to his approval rating for handling the coronavirus outbreak (34%). Eighty-four percent of those who disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak say they will vote for Biden.

Trump’s current 24-point deficit contrasts to his 10-point deficit at this time four years ago (49% Clinton, 39% Trump May 2016 PPIC Survey). Today, Biden leads Trump among both men and women, and across racial/ethnic, age, education, and income groups. Biden also leads by wide margins in coastal regions, but the race is close in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire.

Control of Congress is also at stake in November. If elections for the US House of Representatives were held today, 59% of likely voters would vote for the Democratic candidate while 34% would vote for the Republican candidate. Support for Republican candidates is the same as Trump’s approval rating for the coronavirus outbreak (34%). Eight-five percent of those who disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak say they will vote for the Democratic candidate for the House.

Figure - Majority of Likely Voters Favor Democratic Candidates

Today’s 25-point margin for Democratic candidates contrasts with a 14-point lead at this time two years ago (52% to 38% May 2018 Survey). Today, Democratic candidates enjoy a wide 33-point margin over Republican candidates in Democratically-held districts (62% to 29%); Republican candidates have a narrower 17-point margin over the Democratic candidates in Republican-held districts (57% to 40%). In California’s seven competitive house districts, as determined by the Cook Political Report’s House Race Ratings, 52% of likely voters would vote for the Democrat and 44% would vote for the Republican.

In the days since the May PPIC Survey was completed, the tragic death of George Floyd in police custody has resulted in widespread protests throughout the nation, including California. How our elected leaders handle calls for racial justice is likely to have implications for the fall election. Given the size, diversity, and energy of this movement, California voter turnout could be unusually high. At PPIC, we will be monitoring these developments alongside the unfolding coronavirus pandemic, tracking voters’ views of their federal and state leaders during these highly unsettled times.

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