AP-NORC poll: Trump faces pessimism as GOP convention opens

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President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters at the Yuma International Airport Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Yuma, Ariz. President Donald Trump is promising to outline an optimistic vision for America at this weeks Republican convention. But hell be speaking to a public deeply pessimistic about the direction of the country and overwhelmingly dissatisfied with his and the federal governments handling of the coronavirus pandemic. That's according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/Matt York)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is promising to outline an optimistic vision for America at this week's Republican convention. But he’ll be speaking to a public deeply pessimistic about the direction of the country and overwhelmingly dissatisfied with his and the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Most Americans think there isn’t enough being done to help individual Americans, small businesses or public schools as the pandemic stretches on, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Overall, just 31% of Americans approve of Trump’s leadership on the pandemic, a significant drop from 44% approval in March, when the virus began sweeping through the United States.

The public’s negative assessment of how Trump is handling the crisis puts him on the defensive as his November face-off against Democrat Joe Biden nears. One of Trump’s challenges as his convention opens on Monday night is to convince Americans that anything about his response to the pandemic will change or improve if voters give him four more years in office.

Yet Trump has shown little willingness to acknowledge that a course correction of any kind is needed. He’s repeatedly cast the virus as all but defeated, even when cases were sharply increasing, including in states he needs to win in November. He’s also insisted the U.S. has vastly outperformed other countries in tackling the pandemic, despite the fact the U.S. has the most confirmed cases (more than 5.7 million) and most confirmed deaths (more than 176,000) of any country in the world.

“To be persuasive, there needs to be a strategy and not just rhetoric,” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, said of Trump's challenge this week.

The president heads into his four-night nominating convention with an overall approval rating of 35%. That’s down from 43% in March but still within range of where Trump has been for much of his presidency. Where he falls within that range as Election Day nears could make a difference to his reelection prospects.

His support continues to be driven overwhelmingly by Republicans, with 79% approving of his job performance compared with just 5% of Democrats.

Trump must also contend with Americans’ persistently negative view of the country’s direction as he asks voters to stay the course instead of handing the reins over to Biden. The AP-NORC poll finds that just 23% think the country is heading in the right direction, while 75% think it’s on the wrong path.