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On the trail: Granite Staters give Sununu thumbs up, Trump thumbs down

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces a series of emergency orders on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Concord, N.H., in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The orders create immediate access to unemployment benefits for residents unable to work or facing reduced hours due to the new coronavirus pandemic. He also took steps to protect people from being evicted or having utilities shut off in the next few weeks. (AP photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

For the Monitor
Published: 3/30/2020 12:18:58 PM

A new poll suggests that a majority of New Hampshire residents disapprove of how President Donald Trump’s handling the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

But a Granite State survey – conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center – indicates that nearly three quarters approve of how Gov. Chris Sununu’s steering the state’s efforts to combat the outbreak.

Forty-one percent of those questioned said they approved of the president’s handling of the crisis, with 57% disapproving. Three in ten strongly approved of the job Trump’s doing on coronavirus – with half citing strong disapproval.

As expected, there’s a wide partisan divide, with 97% of Democrats giving Trump a thumbs down and 88% of Republicans giving the president a thumbs up. Trump’s slightly under water among independent voters.

It’s far different story with Sununu, as 73% of Granite Staters surveyed said they approve of the job the two-term Republican governor is doing to combat the pandemic. Forty-two percent said they strongly approve of how Sununu’s handling the situation. Only 15% disapprove of how he’s handling the crisis, with 12% unsure.

Sununu got a thumbs up from across the political spectrum, with 89% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 61% of Democrats approving of the job he’s doing.

The survey was conducted March 17-25, prior to the governor’s issuance of a stay-at-home order on March 26. Six-hundred-and-fifty Granite State Panel members were questioned, competing the survey online.

It’s no surprise that Sununu’s numbers are much more favorable that Trump’s ratings. Three national polls released over the past week indicated that Americans are giving higher ratings for governors and state governments compared to the president and the federal government.

National polls mixed bag for Trump

While Trump’s was viewed unfavorably in New Hampshire according to the UNH survey, two new national polls show the opposite – a majority of Americans approve of the job the president’s doing steering the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump stands at 51 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval in a Fox News national poll conducted March 21-24. And the president approval rating for his management of the crisis stands at 51-45 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post national survey conducted March 22-25.

But the Fox News poll indicates Americans are also divided on the Republican incumbent’s response to the coronavirus outbreak – with 45 percent saying he reacted appropriately and 46 percent suggesting Trump didn’t take it seriously enough.

The survey also shows that a majority of Americans – 53 percent – say the spread of the virus across the country would have been less severe if the federal government had acted quicker. Just over a third of those questioned disagreed – saying nothing could have prevented the spread of the pandemic from coast to coast.

And 58 percent polled in the ABC News/Washington Post survey said that the president was “initially too slow to take action to address the problem,” with 38 percent saying Trump “acted with the right amount of speed.”

Veteran New Hampshire based political scientist Wayne Lesperance noted that in times of crisis, polls usually reflect favorably on politicians.

“Americans tend to rally around the flag during times of crisis,” Lesperance said. “President Trump, who participates in daily briefings, is clearly the beneficiary of that support.”

Lesperance – vice president of academic affairs at New England College – pointed to the latest polls to emphasize that Trump isn’t enjoying the bump past leaders received during times of crisis.

“The President’s current support is faint praise when compared to the support other president’s enjoyed in times of national crisis,” Lesperance stressed.

He said in the aftermath of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, President George H.W. Bush enjoyed an 86% approval rating. Following the attacks on 9/11, his son George W. Bush had approval ratings at 90% and above.

“In both cases, public support for those Presidents soared,” Lesperance said. “And while President Trump has better than usual marks for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, his numbers still fall short of his predecessors.”

Fair game to criticize Trump?

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday criticized the president’s initial response to the coronavirus, telling CNN on Sunday that “his denial at the beginning was deadly.”

“As the President fiddles, people are dying,” she emphasized.

Pelosi’s comments dominated political headlines.

Former Vice President Joe Biden – as well as two outside groups supporting his White House bid – are also heavily criticizing Trump over his coronavirus response.

Biden – the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee – urged Trump a week and a half ago to “stop saying false things….people are worried. They are really frightened. And when these things don’t come true, you just exacerbate their concern. Stop saying false things [you] think make you sound like a hero.”

The former vice president also argued that Trump had repeatedly lied to Americans.

“For the first two months of this crisis, President Trump used his public statements to falsely tell us we had nothing to worry about….now he’s switched to falsely telling us that he’s taking action he has not taken, promising results he’s not delivered and announcing actions that he not even ordered. And people are scared,” Biden said.

Biden’s tempered his remarks over the past week, but he continues to take aim at the president’s response to the crisis. And his campaign went up with a video that used comments from the president the past two months downplaying the severity of the outbreak and arguing that “Trump knew. He failed.”

Priorities USA Action – the main super PAC that supported President Obama’s 2012 re-election and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 White House bid – is on the airwaves with a TV commercial that uses audio of the president’s comments and ends with a video clip of Trump saying “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

Unite the Country, a pro-Biden super PAC, is running with a new TV commercial where the narrator says that “crisis comes to every president. This one failed.” The group says the spot is part of a seven-figure ad buy that will run nationwide on broadcast and cable.

Trump’s reelection campaign is pushing back – repeatedly accusing Biden of trying to politicize the coronavirus crisis.

“By preying upon Americans’ fear amid the coronavirus outbreak, Biden isn’t just playing cheap politics. He’s making the crisis worse. It’s dangerous,” the Trump campaign said. “Biden’s Monday morning quarterbacking is an effort to sow anger and division among Americans.”

Campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh – responding to the super PAC ads, dismissed the criticism.

“It used to be that Americans faced national adversity with unity, but Joe Biden and his allies have abandoned that principle in favor of rank, despicable politics,” Murtaugh said.

“They offer nothing but partisan sniping from the sidelines and seek to undermine the federal response to the crisis by misinforming and frightening people,” he added.

The Trump campaign – alleging false allegations in both super PAC commercials – unsuccessfully tried to persuade TV stations to refuse to run the spots.

The ads are still running – but could such criticism of Trump backfire on Biden?

Lesperance pointed out that “normally, there is some risk associated with attacking a president during a time of crisis because the nation tends to rally around the president.”

But he explained that “since this president’s numbers, while more positive than negative, have not been as strong, there appears to be less risk with openly criticizing the president’s handling of the crisis.”

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