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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on how voters think Trump is handling COVID-19

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including how President Trump’s approval ratings have changed amid the coronavirus pandemic, the tendency of American voters to rally around leaders during a crisis and what these unprecedented circumstances mean for the 2020 presidential election.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we want to look now at how voters are responding to President Trump's leadership at the time of crisis, among other questions.

    And that's with our Politics Monday team joining us via Skype. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and host of public radio's "Politics With Amy Walter" and Tamara Keith of NPR. She also co-hosts the "NPR Politics Podcast."

    Hello to both of you, staying safely at a distance. We miss you. We're so glad you're with us.

    But let's talk first about the president's approval rating, Amy. And I will start with you.

    There have been a number of polls out, a few polls out showing President Trump's support among the American people is up over what it was just a month ago, that there's these numbers from the latest Washington Post/ABC poll that was conducted just last week, has his approval rating up to 48 percent.

    That's a five-point bump from the month before. What do you see, as somebody who looks at polls all the time, as behind this?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    Well, Judy, he is getting something of a bump in this last week or so. I spent last week not just looking at the polls, but also calling some pollsters on both sides. And they saw the same thing in their own private polling, that there is what they're calling something of a rally around the president at a time of crisis.

    This isn't that unusual. Obviously, in really dramatic times, like right after the attacks on 9/11, we saw President Bush's approval ratings jump up 35 points.

    What we're seeing for this president is a bump in approval rating. It's not quite as dramatic as we have seen for previous presidents at a time of crisis. We also see that a majority of Americans, anywhere from 50 to 60 percent, think he's doing a good job on handling the coronavirus.

    The issue though, Judy, for him is where we have been — I feel like we have had this conversation probably 1,000 times on Politics Monday — is, he remains within this narrow band on his approval rating. Still, in most of those polls, except for The Washington Post, more people disapprove of the president overall and the job he's doing than approve of him.

    It's narrower, and he's at the higher end of his so-called trading range, his job approval rating, but he has not broken above 49 percent. And when you look and compare him to where governors are — one poll, they asked, how do you think the president's doing? Fifty percent said, we think he's doing a good job. What about your governor? Seventy-two percent said their governor was doing a good job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Tam, let me ask you that question.

    In the light — I mean, we know there has been controversy about the way the White House has handled coronavirus. The testing controversy is just one part of it.

    What — how do you see what — the president's approval rating going up? What's behind it?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    This is, as Amy says, sort of a rally around the flag, rally around the president phenomena. And what I have also heard is that there's not a sense that this is necessarily going to be durable.

    As Yamiche was talking about, the president has — the ground has shifted under him repeatedly. He has gone from, as Yamiche said, saying, well, maybe the cases will be down to zero, to now saying that 100,000 American deaths would be a good job. That's a remarkable shift.

    And this story has been moving so quickly that it's also hard to know what the polling is picking up from any given moment. Are the polls that we're looking at now reflecting his announcement of the 15 days to slow the spread? Are they reflecting his wavering on it that came after that? Or are they — and will they then reflect his new 30 more days to slow the spread?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, of course, one of the reasons we're asking about all this, Amy, is, we are in a presidential election year. It was something we were paying a lot of attention to before the coronavirus epidemic — pandemic.

    But now, of course, it's rightfully taken a backseat. But it still is going to happen. There will be an election, presumably, still in November.

    So, Amy, does the election, the contest with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, is that just frozen for months? I mean, what are you — what are you seeing?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, in many ways, it is, Judy.

    I mean, I think when you look at these — they're called ballot tests, where you put the president up against one of the Democrats, what you're really seeing is, this is a reflection on how people feel about President Trump, not so much about how they feel about Joe Biden.

    The good news and bad news, if you're Joe Biden, you're not getting a whole lot of attention, because, as you pointed it out, we're not holding any primaries. We would be in the middle — you and I would probably be talking about primaries that are coming up and what the delegate count looks like, and Joe Biden would and Bernie Sanders would be all over television.

    They're not. The one bit of good news, though, for Joe Biden is, he would also be under a lot of scrutiny and a lot of attack from the Trump campaign. That is now at least put off for a little bit.

    And so what you're also seeing is a lot more attention on Joe Biden able to sort of control what he talks about and when he talks about it, as opposed to being on the defensive.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, pick up on that, Tam.

    What do you see as what does the campaign look like under these circumstances?

  • Tamara Keith:

    You know, I have been looking into what the Trump campaign and the Republican Party have been up to, and it has been fascinating.

    They had a bunch of in-person trainings for volunteers that were supposed to happen. They flipped a switch. They made them all virtual trainings. They have also been doing some virtual events, like a women for Trump event.

    But in terms of the messaging, what's really interesting is that, when they have been making calls to voters — and the Trump campaign and the RNC have made something like three million calls to voters over one weekend — those calls, they say, hey, how are you doing?

    Let me direct you to coronavirus.gov. They are — they have changed the message. They are essentially just working on making contacts, practicing making those contacts. And then, later, when people can knock on doors again, they will get back out knocking on doors.

    But they are communicating with people and, in some ways, trying to compete with the media narratives about what the president's performance has been like on coronavirus by going directly to their voters and telling them about what he's done, and also then directing them to resources.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just — in just a few seconds, Amy, it's really — this is one of those things that — almost impossible to predict, isn't it?

  • Amy Walter:

    It is. It absolutely is.

    We have never been in something like such a slow-moving disaster. We talked about rally around the flag. That's usually when a disaster is already happening — has already happened. This, as it continues to roll out, it's going to continue to change the calculus.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are so glad that both of you are staying safe.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

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