WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's job approval has taken a negative turn as a growing number of Americans harbor doubts about his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
After seeing a late-March spike as the pandemic ravaged the United States, his approval ratings have fallen back to the mid-40 percent range, where they were before the death toll and jobless claims exploded. The figure dovetails surveys showing the president narrowly trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, who this week became the apparent Democratic nominee to face him in November.
The latest numbers suggest the surge in job approval ratings that presidents tend to enjoy during a crisis was modest and short-lived for Trump. New polls this week by Quinnipiac, Reuters and CNN all find disapproval of Trump's handling of the coronavirus rising to a majority of Americans.
It's a reversal of fortune for a president who benefits from a committed minority of supporters but has never quite managed to win over a majority of the country. And it comes after his spike in approval had significantly lagged U.S. governors and world leaders, as well as previous American presidents during a crisis or a war.
After rising to his highest-ever 47.4 percent rating on April 1, Trump's approval began to fall and stood at 45.2 percent as of Thursday — the same level as early February — in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
Trump's messaging strategy has been to portray himself as a wartime president leading the country to victory.
The president has led televised briefings on the pandemic almost every day, flanked by medical specialists and top officials at the White House podium. But he has tended to veer off-topic into a rally-like atmosphere with a mixture of self-congratulation, derisive nicknames to mock political rivals, blaming his predecessor for recent failures in COVID-19 testing, picking fights with reporters, and issuing a stream of dubious or false assertions.
Democrats have run TV ads pummeling Trump for ignoring the early warnings and downplaying the outbreak until mid-March after he initially compared it to the flu and assured the country the virus would "disappear." Biden has faulted his rival's handling of the pandemic, saying Wednesday: "The coronavirus is not Donald Trump's fault, but the slow and chaotic response to it is."
A Monmouth University poll out Thursday said Trump's favorable rating had dipped by 4 points to 42 percent since March. His unfavorable rating was 50 percent, with 43 percent of those surveyed registering a "very unfavorable" view of the president.
Biden's rating was 41 percent favorable to 42 percent unfavorable, with 17 percent registering no opinion.
Trump trails Biden 44 percent to 48 percent in a trial heat, a margin statistically unchanged from last month's Monmouth poll. Other surveys have shown Trump trailing his Democratic rival by wider margins.
But with the election still seven months away in a deeply divided country that sent Trump to the White House even as he lost the popular vote in 2016, the outcome is far from certain.
"The static nature of these results suggests the president's response to the pandemic is certainly not helping his re-election prospects," Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said.