BOSTON (CBS) – It’s called the “rally ’round the flag effect,” the polling bounce that presidents routinely benefit from when we’re touched by some international crisis.
President John F. Kennedy’s numbers jumped by 15 points during and after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. President Jimmy Carter got a 26 point bounce after the Iranians took our embassy personnel hostage in 1979. In 1991 President George H.W. Bush’s Gallup poll rating soared by 30 points after the first Gulf War. And in the granddaddy of all RRFEs, President George W. Bush’s approval rose by 34 points after 9/11.
President Donald Trump is enjoying his own bounce, a modest single-digit one in current polls more in line with the six percent increase in President Barack Obama’s numbers in the wake of the elimination of Osama bin Laden. But the history of the RRFE is that these popularity surges are short-lived; both Carter and H.W. Bush lost their re-election bids within months of their bounce.
And judging from a new Morning Consult poll taken earlier this week, Mr. Trump may be facing the same phenomenon. It indicates that while the reflexive tendency to rally behind our president when Americans are under attack is present, it’s not based on a positive response to the specifics of Trump’s handling of the crisis.
Despite his musings about lifting restrictions on public activity as soon as Easter in at least some parts of the country, the poll finds strong public support – even among Republicans – for continuing bans on all but essential activity:
This suggests the public is listening to the medical experts and state and local leaders who’ve been far less sanguine about the recovery timeline, not the president.
Only a tiny fraction seem open to the idea of a return to public gatherings within a couple of weeks, as the president suggested in his remarks about “packed” churches on Easter Sunday.
Here’s the percentage of voters who think we’ll be able to stop social distancing and return to public spaces in:
Two weeks: 6%
The next month: 20%
In 2 months: 27%
In 3 months: 18%
In 6 months: 9%
More than 6 months: 7%
These results are roughly similar across all party categories.
I don’t know what the ratings are for the president’s embarrassing daily briefings, where he boasts about the federal response, hints at miracle cures and quick return to normalcy and trashes the media for allegedly ginning up the crisis to harm his re-election, as the medical professionals struggle to keep straight faces behind him. If he’s lucky, these sessions are just background noise for most Americans, too busy trying to stay safe and worrying about loved ones and their future to digest more than an occasional Trump soundbite.
But whatever it is they’re digesting, this poll suggest most Americans are tuning out his messages.