Politicians and presidents have historically enjoyed a boost in approval ratings during times of war or crisis — a phenomenon political scientists have dubbed the “rally around the flag effect.”
George W. Bush famously saw a 35 percentage point bump in his approval rating following the September 11 attacks. President John F. Kennedy saw a low double-digit rise in his polls when navigating the Cuban Missile Crisis.
More recently, President Trump saw a short-lived coronavirus bump of a few percentage points in March, around the time he stopped calling the pandemic a hoax and began to respond to the outbreak somewhat earnestly. Unsurprisingly, those numbers have now normalized to their regular, underperforming levels with only 43 percent of Americans — rather than 46 percent — approving of the president.
Just like President Trump, in the Lone Star State, very few Texans are rallying around Gov. Greg Abbott.
Between February and April, the governor’s approval rating among registered Texas voters rose from 48 to 56 percent, an 8-point increase, per University of Texas-Texas Tribune polling.
At face value, it’s a decent boost; 56 percent is the highest approval rating Abbott has seen since the University of Texas and Texas Tribune began polling the governor.
But much of that gain can be attributed to Abbott’s recovery from February, when his approval rating was the lowest it had been since June 2018. The movement in his approval rating appears to be largely spurred by an increased share of approving Republicans, some Democrats, and by the fact that the number of people who responded “neither/don’t know” dropped to its lowest point ever — a decrease presumably observed because Abbott has dominated the airwaves and headlines in recent months.
More telling is the fact that Abbott’s coronavirus bump is only 4 points higher than his average approval rating since being re-elected in late 2018, or about 52 percent.
Comparatively, other governors around the nation responding to the pandemic have seen their approval ratings skyrocket. Most impressively, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have seen a 41 and 32-point bump respectively for their handling of the coronavirus crisis, according to FiveThirtyEight. With the exception of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (whose approval rating actually decreased), many governors have seen their approval ratings rise at least 11 points during the crisis.
“It looks like Abbott’s approval bounce in polling is pretty small relative to other governors, both Democrat and Republican,” Houston Democratic strategist Keir Murray told the Signal. “I think it reflects a tepid approach to the crisis, worried about both doing too much or too little, which is instead creating anger from both the left and right.”
Other Texas Republicans have seen equally weak coronavirus bumps. Sen. John Cornyn saw a measly two-point bump, from 36 percent to 38 percent. Lt. Gov Dan Patrick saw his approval rating rise by a single point.
When Texans were polled directly as to how the governor is handling the Covid-19 pandemic, 56 percent approved, a figure identical to his general approval rating. For now, no other comparative UT-Texas Tribune coronavirus-specific polling exists to see if that approval has changed between February, March, and April.
Considering the uniqueness and gravity of the historical moment the state and nation are facing, Abbott’s approval rating for a 100-year pandemic is dismally small — and since this polling was conducted between April 10 to April 19, it remains to be seen how Texans, who overwhelmingly support social distancing measures and business closures, will feel about Abbott making Texas one of the first states to reopen while the outbreak rages on.
Photo: U.S. Department of Homeland Security/ Wikimedia Commons