Americans assess the President's hurricane response

August 30, 2017, 6:30 PM GMT+0

39% of Americans approved of President Trump's handling of Hurricane Harvey over the weekend

Natural disasters can be turning points for presidents. For President Trump, the early assessment of his handling of Hurricane Harvey, measured before he traveled to Texas on Tuesday, was positive. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, conducted before the trip, Americans approved of his response to the storm and flooding. The President declared an emergency in Texas, opening up the door for federal assistance, and his tweets about giving assistance to victims of the hurricane and praising volunteers have received better assessments (even from Democrats) than usual.

While many weren’t sure they could evaluate the President’s management of the storm response yet, his early positive rating was distinctly different from how the public views the Presidency overall. A majority continue to disapprove of how the President is handling his job, as they have since June. The percentage approving of the President’s performance has remained below 40% throughout this period.

The immediate reaction to the President’s response to Harvey could – depending on what happens next – improve the overall judgment of how he is handling his job. But it can also change. The first response to George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was positive, but one week later – as rescue operations became bogged down – that original positive assessment disappeared and Americans disapproved. It continued to get worse.

There are potential pitfalls ahead for this President if there are problems with hurricane relief. There are also divisive domestic issues – such as the public response to his presidential pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio – that could hurt perceptions of him.

Both Republican and Democratic public officials have criticized the President’s pardon of Arpaio, who had been convicted of contempt of court for ignoring judicial orders about his treatment of prisoners and racial profiling in Arizona. And the public doesn’t like the pardon either. More have an unfavorable opinion than a favorable one of Arpaio. 41% disapprove of the president’s action.

There is support from some groups that form the President’s base: a majority of Republicans approve of the pardon. Despite judicial criticism, the former sheriff’s actions on immigration resonate with the one in three overall (and 56% of Republicans) who view illegal immigration as a “very serious” problem. By 59% to 14%, this group approves of the pardon for Arpaio. Those who view illegal immigration as less than a very serious problem disapprove.

For complete results, see toplines here or tab report here.