The constituencies reflected most in this group include white independents, Republicans who don’t regularly watch Fox News (or who consider themselves “soft” partisans), voters in Sun Belt swing states, young people, white women without a college degree, and voters who live in outer suburbs and rural areas.
Attitudes on this question about Trump’s response powerfully link to opinions about his reelection. Among the 30 percent who said Trump has been strong on the virus throughout, the president leads the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, by 94 percent to 4 percent.
But Trump faces a comparable deficit among the much larger group of 45 percent, who say he’s mishandled the outbreak from the beginning. Among those respondents, Biden leads 88 percent to 2 percent. The fact that more of these voters are undecided (some 10 percent) only compounds the president’s challenge: Biden has more room to grow among Trump’s consistent critics than Trump does among his consistent supporters.
The implication is clear. If Trump can’t reduce the large number of voters who think he has mishandled the crisis all along, he’ll need to win a disproportionate share of the 20 percent of voters who are conflicted about his performance. In the NBC/WSJ survey, Trump does lead among those ambivalent voters. But his margin of 54 percent to 33 percent isn’t nearly enough to overcome his deficit with his big bloc of critics. Among all voters, Biden leads him in the poll by a solid 49 percent to 42 percent.
Embedded in all these numbers is evidence that the pandemic could harden the geographic divide that has characterized the Trump era, with the GOP losing ground in major metropolitan areas but consolidating its hold on rural places.
So far, the largest metropolitan areas in almost every state, as I recently reported, are facing much higher caseloads than less populated communities, even when adjusted on a per-person basis. And in those areas, the verdict on Trump’s response is clear and harsh. In the NBC/WSJ poll, a solid majority of residents of both urban communities (56 percent) and inner suburbs (54 percent) said Trump has mishandled the outbreak from the beginning. In both types of communities, only about one in four respondents gives Trump positive marks on both fronts, and only about one in six falls into the divided category.
The picture is very different in the outer suburban and rural communities, where the disease generally hasn’t hit as hard yet. In the NBC/WSJ poll, about two-fifths say he’s handling it well and has from the outset, and only one-third or less take the opposite view on both counts. But in both communities, about one in four respondents falls into the conflicted group, a higher share than in the big population centers. That means that while about two-thirds of respondents in rural communities and outer suburbs say Trump is handling the crisis well now, a clear majority in both also say he did not act quickly enough at the outset.