AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s misguided boast on virus poll ratings

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is making a misleading boast about his job performance on the coronavirus, claiming that recent polls point to high public approval even after delays by the federal government in distributing test kits to diagnose and stem the illness.

TRUMP, asked about his administration’s handling of the coronavirus after missteps in distributing test kits: “We’ve gotten the highest poll numbers of anybody for this kind of thing.” — Fox News town hall Thursday in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

TRUMP: “Gallup just gave us the highest rating ever for the way we are handling the CoronaVirus situation. The April 2009-10 Swine Flu, where nearly 13,000 people died in the U.S., was poorly handled.” — tweet Thursday.

THE FACTS: He’s misrepresenting poll findings from Gallup to suggest public approval even after government missteps on the coronavirus. In fact, the poll was conducted weeks before, in early to mid-February, during the beginning stages of the U.S. outbreak. It was before anyone had died from COVID-19 or the first cases of community transmission surfaced.

The Gallup poll, conducted Feb. 3-16, found 77% of Americans were very confident (31%) or somewhat confident (46%) that the U.S. government would be able to handle a virus outbreak. That tracks closely with a poll conducted Feb. 13-16 by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which also found about 3 in 4 Americans were at least moderately confident that U.S. health officials could handle the job.

Gallup also reported Americans were more confident than they were in previous administrations’ ability to deal with Zika, Ebola, swine flu and bird flu, based on an average of polls during those times.

But the coronavirus polls were conducted when deaths from COVID-19 were still happening abroad, rather than on U.S. soil. Since then, Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence on Feb. 26 to lead the coronavirus response as the U.S. stock market slid over epidemic fears and the first U.S. cases emerged of community transmission that didn’t involve overseas travel.

To date, there are now at least 21 U.S. deaths — with all but three victims in Washington state — and more than 500 infections scattered over more than 30 states as the federal government struggles to meet demand for diagnostic testing kits and Trump at times offers contrary messaging to his federal health experts.

Trump claims higher poll ratings than previous administrations got when handling virus outbreaks. But early in the swine flu outbreak in May 2009, when Barack Obama was president, 3 in 4 Americans had confidence in the government’s management of the crisis, according to Gallup. That was about the same level of approval expressed for the government’s handling of the coronavirus in early February. Confidence in the 2009 response declined as the consequences worsened.

As such, Trump’s verdict of having the “highest” ratings ever is premature and misleading.


AP Director of Public Opinion Research Emily Swanson contributed to this report.


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