'We have some form of hope': Why some Democrats are giving Trump high marks on coronavirus

They approve of his response, though some think he could've responded faster.

March 30, 2020, 6:06 PM

In the middle of a crisis of unrivaled magnitude, President Trump is finding himself on new terrain in more ways than one after a new ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed a small bump of support in the president's approval among Democrats - up 13 points.

While that 13-point rise was only to a meager 17%, it does, perhaps, represent a significant movement of some Democrats behind the president with those Americans looking beyond political polarization to score his performance as the coronavirus grips the country.

Trump's overall approval, 48-46%, is the first time since taking office that his approval is higher than his disapproval, according to the new poll. Another 51% approve of his handling of the outbreak, despite 58% say he acted too slowly at the onset.

In follow-up interviews with several self-identified Democrats, who may span the ideological spectrum but all approved of the president's management of the pandemic in the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, they offered a perspective, largely driven more by anxiety over the health and economic impacts of the outbreak rather than politics, about why Trump deserves high marks.

"I like the idea that the federal government stepped in and is coming up with strategies...to try and help us out so that we have some form of hope, people are in turmoil psychologically," Alvonica Jackson, a resident of Washington, D.C., said. "It’s a big deal. It’s bigger than money, [the money] is not going to change the psychological scars that a lot of us are suffering."

Although she supports Trump’s overall response, she told ABC News she wishes it came sooner and that he took the spread of the disease more seriously from its onset.

"I think that he should have just responded, rather than just downplayed it," Jackson said. "If our government, or Donald Trump, would have just acted immediately then it wouldn’t have a chance to spread."

That sentiment is echoed by another respondent who approved of the president, but also yearned for a swifter response from the federal government.

"If he would have acted a little sooner with closing our borders down, they should have had a lockdown travel ban, I think," Roger Ferguson in Ohio told ABC News.

But as his household battles against steepening medical costs, Ferguson is looking to a check from the newly-passed, unprecedented $2.2 trillion stimulus package, which Trump signed last week, for help.

PHOTO: NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci walks past President Donald Trump during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, March 29, 2020.
NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci walks past President Donald Trump during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, March 29, 2020.
Alexander Drago/Reuters, FILE

"$1,200 would help out tremendously," he said. "We’ve spent money that we've saved, because my mom has got cancer right now. On top of her medication, we’ve had to go and spend tons of extra money on preventative things [to keep her safe]."

Some of the respondents, despite their party affiliation, suggested that amid the crisis, they are looking for any action as a signal of leadership.

"I don't have knowledge to say how I would do it," a respondent from Pennsylvania, who asked to remain anonymous, told ABC News in an interview.

While she conceded that Trump has been "at odds" with those in the "medical field," she still currently approves of his performance because, "I don't know what else he could do. I couldn't do a better job, but more can be done. I don't know who could do better, because they're not in this position. But for now, things could be improving."

One Democrat, Yvette Brown from Cook County, Illinois, said she approved of Trump "that day" when the poll was taken because he was actively defending Americans against the coronavirus - a still evolving threat at the time to most.

But on Saturday, Brown had a decidedly different view of Trump's handling of the crisis.

"Not today," she said.

"On that day it was new," she said of her initial response. "And anything...doing something was approval because there was no room for just being stagnant and he wasn't. He was doing something."

When asked why she has since changed her mind, she explained that she now has more "knowledge" and "information," and a bare minimum response "isn't okay."

"At that point we didn't know a lot," she said. "Now we know more. And so, what you do makes a difference. It was knowledge as opposed to ignorance, and he's making, from what I hear, decisions that may be more harmful than good."

Among those decisions that she viewed as "harmful," Brown pointed to Trump's comments about having "the country opened up" by Easter, which falls on April 12.

But some of the Democrats who positively scored the president in the poll have been longtime supporters of his White House.

One poll respondent who has been registered with the Democratic Party for a long time, but who voted for Trump in 2016 since he said he was "never" voting for Hillary Clinton, applauds Trump’s response because he feels allowing governors to take the lead in handling the outbreak was the right move.

"He's putting the governors in charge," Joseph Marshall Jr. from Ohio said. "I agree with that."

In one press briefing in mid-March, Trump labeled himself "in a sense, a wartime president."

Marshall told ABC News he "loved" that rhetoric.

"We're in a war. Look at how many people are dying. Look at how many businesses are going out because of his coronavirus. It's really scary," he said.

But despite the relatively better scores among Democrats, Trump trails historically among those leaders before him, who in the middle of crisis, saw approval ratings soar as the country rallied behind the commander-in-chief.

In the few days after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush’s approval rating among Democrats skyrocketed to 78%, according to Gallup. About 10 days later, it peaked at 84%.

Another hurdle for the president is that he is seeing a similar level of disapproval among those within his own party, 12%, in the ABC News/Washington Post poll.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington, March 27, 2020.
President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington, March 27, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters, FILE

"I think he should have alerted the public earlier. But if he was going to alert the public earlier, then the businesses were going to hurt. He needed to do well at balancing [the two]," Cary Chui, a Republican from California who responded to the poll, said in a follow-up interview.

"We have so many ways to alarm the public besides only saying 'It’s fine,'... or saying 'It’s a little flu,' he should have done something differently," he said.

Along with Chui, Jennings Hughes, an independent with Republican leanings who also responded to the poll, said he is most concerned about the economic impact, suggesting that the government’s response is not comprehensive enough to counter the devastating effects.

"I just think that not enough weight was given to the economic consequences," Hughes said. "Now if your business is going out of business, how is $1,200 gonna fix that situation, as opposed to letting customers come to your business?"

Hughes, who is in the real estate business, told ABC News in a follow-up interview that she believes allowing states to shutter the majority of businesses all at once was not the best response.

"I'm just disappointed collectively in our leadership's willingness to shut everything down, and the consequences of that, as opposed to maybe not shutting everything down," he said.

"It’s a catch all solution that they have, that's gonna have drastic economic consequences," Hughes said.

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