With the US election 100 days away, more Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction than at any previous point in Donald Trump’s presidency.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research also finds Mr Trump’s approval for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic falling to a new low, with just 32% of Americans supportive of his approach.
Even Mr Trump’s standing on the economy, long the high watermark for the president, has fallen over the past few months after appearing ascendant earlier this year.
Those political headwinds have sparked a sudden summer shift in the White House and the Trump campaign. After spending months playing down the pandemic and largely ignoring the virus’s resurgence in several states, Mr Trump is now warning that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
After repeatedly minimising the importance of wearing masks to limit the spread of the virus, Mr Trump is now urging Americans to wear them. And after insisting he would press forward with a large campaign convention in August, the president has announced he is scrapping those plans.
The AP-NORC poll shows eight in 10 Americans say the country is heading in the wrong direction. That is more than at any point since Mr Trump took office. The poll also finds just 38% of Americans say the national economy is good, down from 67% in January, before the pandemic upended most aspects of everyday life.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s campaign is eager to keep the final months of the campaign focused squarely on Mr Trump, confident that the former vice president can emerge victorious if the contest is a referendum on whether the current commander in chief has succeeded during his four years in office.
Kate Bedingfield, Mr Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said: “People are sick and tired of a government that is divided and broken and unable to get things done. What people feel like they’re getting from Trump right now is a hodgepodge mess of self-interested political talk.”
The past few months have proved to be beneficial for Mr Biden’s campaign. He managed to swiftly consolidate the Democratic Party in ways Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 nominee, struggled to do. Mr Biden’s fundraising, a weakness for him in the contest to become the Democratic nominee, has surged, allowing his campaign to build an infrastructure and start spending on adverts in both traditional battleground states and more aspirational targets, including Texas and Georgia.
Mr Biden has also benefited from Mr Trump landing on the wrong side of the public in his initial reactions to the pandemic. For example, three in four Americans back requiring people to wear masks in public, which Mr Trump initially dismissed.
Another pandemic test for the president lies ahead in August and September, as Mr Trump and his administration aggressively try to sell a sceptical public on reopening schools. The poll finds that about a third of Americans are opposed entirely to the idea, while close to half say major adjustments to instruction will be required.
The limitations the pandemic has placed on the candidates’ ability to travel and hold large rallies have also played more to Mr Biden’s strengths. While Mr Trump relishes headlining rallies at packed arenas, Mr Biden is less adept in those settings. He has instead spent the past several months delivering speeches to small groups of invited guests and journalists within driving distance of his home in Delaware, and holding virtual events with supporters and donors.
Mr Trump argues that shows Mr Biden does not have the stamina for a full-blown campaign; Mr Biden’s advisers say voters want to see their leaders abide by the same public health guidelines they are urging others to follow.
Democrats have been buoyed by public polls finding Mr Biden ahead of Mr Trump both nationally and in some battleground states by a comfortable margin. However, Mr Biden’s advisers warn that they expect the race to tighten in the final stretch before polling day as more Republicans who may be dissatisfied with Mr Trump’s job performance gravitate back to their party’s leader.
Overall, 38% of Americans approve of the president’s job performance — well within the narrow range that Mr Trump’s approval ratings have stayed throughout this presidency, but down slightly from earlier this year before the pandemic. Most Republicans — 81% — approve of Mr Trump’s job performance, but just 68% of Republicans support his handling of the pandemic.