Democratic supporters are currently rending their garments because of a recent rise in Trump's approval rating, from which it is inferred that Trump is benefiting from a "rally effect" in a time of national disaster and from which it is further inferred that he might well ride such a rally effect to a second term.
Possible? Yes. Likely? No. In fact, it's a little odd that Democratic supporters are so ready to believe such a story. Stan Greenberg argues in a just-published Atlantic piece that this is because many Democrats simply don't realize how much revulsion Trump has engendered in the American electorate, revulsion that is more likely to be durable than not. He discusses various aspects of the anti-Trump dynamic but I would focus here on one particular point he makes about the general cluelessness of many observers about the sentiments percolating in working class America.
"[W]hile the revulsion that women and suburbanites show toward Trump registers with elite commentators and Democratic operatives, the role that working-class voters have played in Republicans’ recent electoral troubles mostly does not.
The white working class forms 46 percent of registered voters; most are women. Although these voters’ excitement and hopes made Trump’s 2016 victory possible, they were demonstrably disillusioned just a year into Trump’s presidency. They pulled back when the Republicans proposed big cuts in domestic spending, Medicare, and Medicaid and made health insurance more uncertain and expensive, while slashing taxes for corporations and their lobbyists. In the midterms, Democrats ran on cutting prescription-drug costs, building infrastructure, and limiting the role of big money, and a portion of the white working class joined the revolt. The 13-point shift against Trump was three times stronger than the shift in the suburbs that got everyone’s attention.
Trump won white working-class women by 27 points in 2016. But at the end of 2019, Biden was running dead even with Trump nationally. Eight months before the election, Democracy Corps—of which I am a co-founder—and the Center for Voter Information conducted a survey in the battleground states that gave Trump his Electoral College victory. (Trump won them by 1.3 points in 2016.) Our recent findings showed Biden trailing Trump with white working-class women by just eight points in a head-to-head contest. These numbers herald an earthquake, but they have not penetrated elite commentators’ calculations about whether Trump will win in 2020.
When President Barack Obama urged voters to “build on the progress” by supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, he underestimated how much working-class voters felt Democrats had pushed their concerns out of sight. Democratic presidents championed NAFTA and presided over the outsourcing of jobs; bank bailouts, lost homes and wages, and mandatory health insurance further alienated working people; and Clinton did not hide her closeness with Wall Street or her discomfort campaigning to win working-class and rural communities. So working people had lots of reasons to consider voting for Donald Trump, who said he was battling for the “forgotten Americans,” but shocked Clinton supporters could see only the race cards he played to great effect the second he got off the escalator at Trump Tower. Now the failure of political elites to see the role working people played in the Democratic victories of 2018 makes them believe that Trump is headed for reelection."
David Hopkins on his blog Honest Graft also provides a good take on the recent bump in Trump's approval ratings and why there may be less there than meets the eye.
"1. Political leaders' popularity often rises temporarily after the onset of a crisis. Political scientists call this pattern the "rally effect," and it's been documented many times over decades of history...But these popularity bumps fade with time. Either the crisis is soon resolved and citizens turn their attention to other things, or it is not, in which case they start to grow impatient with the effectiveness of their leader. The 2020 general election is still far enough away that even if Trump were to benefit from the rally effect in the short term, it wouldn't be a very reliable signal of his popularity more than seven months in the future.
2. Americans are still learning about the severity and likely duration of this crisis.....
3. Americans already have strong opinions about Trump, and most of them disliked him before the crisis...
4. 4. It's not the virus, it's the economy (stupid). The most worrying component of this crisis for the Trump administration and re-election campaign isn't the spread of COVID-19 itself and the casualties that it leaves in its wake. Instead, it's the larger impact on the economy. While the specific quantitative estimates of current forecasting models should be treated with skepticism in such an unprecedented and fast-moving environment, it seems inevitable that there will be a sudden and catastrophic economic shock that will at least temporarily push the U.S. into a recession.
Trump and his supporters will argue, with justification, that it would be unfair to blame him for the economic misery that a worldwide pandemic is poised to inflict on the nation. But voters tend to reward presidents for good economic times and punish them for bad times regardless of the incumbent's actual responsibility for either outcome."
Finally, Nate Silver has a detailed article, including some modeling, that puts recent trends in an overall context that decidedly does not favor Trump.
"President Trump’s approval rating has improved slightly amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the short-term gains, reflecting a possible rally-around-the-flag effect at the time of national emergency, may not hold. On the contrary, the strong likelihood of a potentially very deep recession triggered by coronavirus puts Trump’s reelection chances in jeopardy....
[I]n the event of a mild recession — with economic conditions tantamount to 1992 — all four models predict that Trump would lose the popular vote by a solid amount, by margins ranging from 4.0 percentage points (Model 3) to 5.7 points (Model 2). And in the event of a severe, 2008-style recession, they predict a potential landslide loss, by amounts ranging from 9.1 percentage points (Model 3) to 14.6 points (Model 2)....
Could voters give Trump a pass because coronavirus is the cause of the recession? Maybe. But even in the case of ordinary economic booms and busts, it’s never entirely clear how much credit or blame the president actually deserves — and the answer is, probably less than he typically gets from the public....
But what about Trump’s approval rating improving since the coronavirus crisis began? Indeed, Trump’s approval rating has improved in recent days so that it’s among the highest ratings of his presidency. As I mentioned, his approval rating among voters is now roughly 45 percent, which is up from 43 or 44 percent since early March, while his disapproval rating has fallen from 52 to 53 percent to 51 percent.
However, compared with typical rally-around-the-flag effects that follow national crises, these gains are fairly meager. For instance, Bush’s approval rating improved from 51 percent to 86 percent following the September 11 attacks, and Carter’s approval rating nearly doubled in 1979 in the immediate wake of the Iran hostage crisis. (Granted, both of their ratings declined sharply from there.) But Trump is also not seeing nearly as much of an approval rating bounce as other leaders in Western countries, such as Italy’s Giuseppe Conte, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and the UK’s Boris Johnson. So it’s not clear that a small approval rating gain is a bullish sign for Trump."
So there you have it. Trump's still in a great deal of re-election trouble, far more than is normal for an incumbent president. Remain calm, stay healthy, help your neighbors and beat this guy in November.