“There is still too much wishful thinking and not enough clear guidance,” said Loiacono, who lives in a heavily blue-collar area just blocks from Lake Winnebago. In 2016, Trump flipped Winnebago County from blue to red, but now it’s among the top 10 counties in the Badger State where new COVID-19 infections are flaring, according to the AP.
“The job of government is to lead in times of crises,” said Loiacono, donning a mask on his porch. “The president has admitted he talked much more positively about it because he saw his role as being a cheerleader. And I sort of understand that, but I think it was the wrong move.”
During the summer surge of coronavirus cases in the Sunbelt, Trump’s approval ratings on the virus clearly took a hit, even within his base. Charles Franklin, director of polling at Marquette University Law School, says a pattern has now emerged showing that voter perception of Trump’s pandemic response is one of the most important factors driving who they are supporting for president.
“Approval of his handling of COVID is the next-strongest predictor of vote choice,” behind voters’ party affiliation and their overall approval of Trump’s performance as president, Franklin said. “And it’s not just a fluke of a single survey.” Marquette’s statewide polling showed Trump’s approval on the virus plunging from 51% in March to 41% in October.
That correlation is playing particularly poorly for Trump right now as cases spike in Wisconsin and Iowa, along with milder upticks in other Midwestern battlegrounds like Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio.
And no amount of Trump happy talk can erase the fact that the virus is just as devastating to working-class regions that supported Trump in 2016 as it is to urban Democratic strongholds. Similar to Winnebago County, for instance, Iowa’s deeply blue-collar Dubuque County has been one of the state’s top 10 counties experiencing the fastest growth in cases per capita over the past couple weeks.
In Wisconsin, a state Trump won by just 23,000 votes in 2016, Biden holds a steady seven-point advantage in New York Times polling aggregates. Several of the latest polls also suggest a slight bump for Biden.
Trump is also struggling to hold on to Iowa, where he prevailed by nearly 10 points in 2016. Biden now holds a three-point advantage in the Times aggregate, with polling in the state’s U.S. Senate race also trending slightly toward Democrat Theresa Greenfield.
But don’t worry, Trump’s not going to let dismal polling results stand in the way of a good superspreader event. He’s presently barnstorming the Midwest this week with maskless rallies in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska—just in case any of his break with reality on the pandemic had slipped the minds of voters. You know what they say in politics: Never let the bad be the enemy of the worst.