Trump’s handling of two crises lowers his approval — and his reelection chances

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The tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 has rattled the nation to its core. America saw the ongoing pattern of police brutality play out once again, but this time, Americans, led by people of color — the community most impacted at the hands of law enforcement — said, “Enough is enough,” and they said it loudly.

Though largely peacefulprotests raging across the country were at times overshadowed by some looting and violent rioting. 

As the world watched protests take over streets in every state of the U.S. — even protests around the world — I wondered whether viewers would react most strongly to the protesters or the looters? 

A national survey for PBS and NPR conducted on June 2-3 indicated that Americans are twice as likely to view the demonstrations as protests (61 percent) than riots (31 percent). A large majority of African Americans (79 percent) and even most white Americans (56 percent) believe the demonstrations are protests and not riots. 

The issue of confidence in the police is looming in Congress this week as the Democratic leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus in the House of Representatives introduce a package of reforms to end police violence. These reforms include proposals to limit the immunity that police officers have against lawsuits and to eliminate racial profiling. 

Last week, local leaders took the initiative. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed taking away $150 million in funding for the city’s police department and redirecting the funds to youth jobs, health initiatives and peace centers to heal trauma.

Minneapolis officials issued orders banning the use of choke holds in their police department. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison brought second-degree murder charges against Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Floyd, and charged the three officers present at the scene with aiding and abetting. The Buffalo, N.Y., police department suspended two policemen who shoved to the ground a 75-year-old man who was protesting, seriously injuring him.

While a majority of both white and black Americans see the demonstrations as peaceful protests and not riots, there is a sharp racial division in the level of confidence in the police. Four out of every 10 (42 percent) white Americans have a great deal of confidence in the ability of police officers to treat all races fairly; less than one in every ten African Americans (6 percent) feel the same way.

Crises bring out the best or the worst in presidents. Herbert Hoover appeared indifferent to the suffering of people during the Great Depression, while Franklin Roosevelt attacked the crisis aggressively.

Donald Trump has taken a bad situation and made it worse. Four days after Floyd’s death, he tweeted the protesters in Minneapolis “thugs” and added a threat that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter flagged the president’s tweet as glorifying violence. 

Security forces used tear gas to clear activists out of Lafayette Square so Trump could do a photo-op in front of St. John’s Church near the White House.

As a result, Trump appears utterly obsessed with order and completely empty of empathy. The public wants a chief executive who can strike a balance.

Two of every three Americans (67 percent) believe the president’s response to the demonstrations protesting police brutality has increased tensions. Just about every Democrat (92 percent) but few Republicans (29 percent) believe he has made things worse. The fact that three out of every four (73 percent) independents believe Trump has increased racial tensions is potentially a very troubling sign for his prospects for reelection.  

It’s comforting to know that a majority of both white and black Americans fault the president’s handling of the racial crisis. Nine in 10 (88 percent) of African Americans feel Trump has inflamed tensions. Almost two out of three white Americans (63 percent) similarly fault his handling of the situation.

There has been a sharp drop in presidential approval since March and the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and America’s original pandemic — racism. Since then, Trump’s net negative approval rating has doubled from -7 (43 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove)  to -14 (41 percent approve and 55 percent disapprove). The number of Americans who strongly disapprove of the president’s performance jumped from 41 to 47 percent. Ominously for his reelection prospects, the portion of independents who strongly disapprove of the president’s performance has increased by 10 percent (33 to 43 percent). 

The decline in the president’s performance ratings and his prospects for reelection should not be a surprise. So far, Trump seems to not have measured up to the two crises that have emerged and threatening the nation. In times of crisis, Americans want a president who can bring people closer together, not drive them further apart. 

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.

Tags #BLM Abuse anti-police Black Lives Matter civil rights Donald Trump Keith Ellison November election police brutality Political repression Polling polls president approval numbers presidential election Protests

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