Yahoo News/YouGov poll: Most Americans deny Trump virus response is a 'success' — nearly half say Obama would be doing better

Andrew Romano
West Coast Correspondent

Nearly half of Americans believe the United States would be faring better in the current coronavirus pandemic if Barack Obama were president instead of Donald Trump, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

The survey, which was conducted May 4-5, found that a wide plurality of adults (47 percent) think the hard-hit U.S. — where more than 1.2 million COVID-19 infections have been reported and more than 73,000 people have died — would be in better shape under Obama than under Trump. 

Only 24 percent of Americans say the crisis would be the same; only 29 percent say it would be worse. And though partisans are predictably split — 79 percent of Democrats say Obama would have made things better while 67 percent of Republicans say he would have made things worse — a plurality of independents (45 percent) side with the Democrats. 

The unfavorable comparison between the current president and his Democratic predecessor is one of the clearest signs to date of an emerging dynamic that will define the remainder of Trump’s term and the presidential election.

Americans don’t just disapprove of aspects of Trump’s coronavirus response. Instead, they increasingly blame the size and severity of the U.S. outbreak on Trump himself.

Last week, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, praised the administration’s handling of the pandemic as a “great success story.” The new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that only one in four Americans (25 percent) share Kushner’s view; a full 55 percent of them disagree. Even Republicans evince some doubts, with nearly half saying the Trump response has not been a success story (25 percent) or that they’re not sure (23 percent). 

Why? Because just one in four Americans (24 percent) say the Trump administration was adequately prepared to deal with the coronavirus; a majority (62 percent) say the opposite. Americans who are not satisfied the administration is doing everything it can to stop the virus (46 percent) outnumber those who are satisfied (39 percent). Only a third (33 percent) trust Trump to be personally honest about the coronavirus threat. Only 21 percent think the U.S. is conducting enough COVID-19 testing to track future outbreaks. Nearly half (48 percent) say their own governor has done a better job handling the coronavirus crisis than Trump, while just a quarter (24 percent) rate Trump higher. 

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP (2), Getty Images (2)

As a result, disapproval of the way Trump has handled the pandemic rose to a new high of 53 percent in the poll. A majority of Americans now say Trump deserves most (35 percent) or some (19 percent) of the blame for the deadly pathogen’s spread in the U.S. — and nearly two-thirds say Trump could have “reduced the damage done by COVID-19” a lot (43 percent) or somewhat (21 percent) “if he had acted sooner.” 

The poll wasn’t all bad news for Trump. 

With the exception of Obama, who has largely exited politics, no other public figure performed particularly well in comparison to the president. Not surprisingly, huge majorities of Republicans say the coronavirus crisis would be worse if Democrats such as Joe Biden (70 percent), Andrew Cuomo (57 percent) or Hillary Clinton (74 percent) were president, while huge majorities of Democrats (67 percent, 66 percent and 70 percent, respectively) say it would be better. Most independents say it would be the same. 

Meanwhile, Democrats (60 percent), independents (69 percent) and Republicans (73 percent) agree that things would be the same if Vice President Mike Pence were in charge. Although a majority of Democrats crossed party lines to say the situation would be better under President George W. Bush (52 percent), a majority of Republicans (56 percent) say it would be worse. 

The other bright spot for Trump is China. 

A large majority of Americans (60 percent) — including a plurality of Democrats (44 percent) — say the U.S. outbreak would have been “much bigger” without the administration’s January restrictions on travel to and from China; only 26 percent say the restrictions did not “meaningfully impact” the scale of the U.S. outbreak. A significant minority (29 percent) think the Chinese engineered the coronavirus and intentionally spread it; another 27 percent are unsure. (The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement last week that the U.S. intelligence community “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified” in a Chinese lab.) 

Overall, Americans are far more willing to blame China than any other entity for the coronavirus, with more than four out of five saying Beijing bears “most of the blame” (58 percent) or “some blame” (24 percent) for its spread. Wide majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (82 percent) agree with that assessment. 

But the question for Trump is not only whether he can convince Americans to blame China. The question is whether he can convince Americans to stop blaming him. The poll suggests he has his work cut out for him.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,573 U.S. adult residents interviewed online between May 4 and 5, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S residents. The margin of error is approximately 3.1 percent.

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Click here for the latest coronavirus news and updates. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please refer to the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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