History tells us that US elections are all about the economy. For a nation priding itself on economic dominance on the international stage, this makes sense.
Given a more limited social safety net than many of its developed world peers, and an unwavering belief in the virtues of the ‘American Dream', the health of the labour market is also of critical importance to the average American voter. What does all this mean for President Trump's November re-election bid?
If the economy is solid and the employment picture healthy, an incumbent president in the US stands a very good chance of re-election. All the way back to Roosevelt, the incumbent has always been re-elected, provided there has been no economic recession in the two years leading up to his re-election date.
Only Calvin Coolidge, the 30th US president, was successful in gaining a second term in spite of a recession within this two-year window - in the 1928 election. Meanwhile, famous casualties of a failure to secure a second term, with recession in the two years leading up to their hopeful re-election, include Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.
The derailing effects of Covid-19
At the beginning of 2020, history was on Trump's side. The improving shape of the economy (following an almost two-year long trade dispute with China), and the lowest US unemployment rate in around 50 years stood in his favour. Fast forward a matter of weeks, and Covid-19 struck, potentially changing everything.
The Covid-19 crisis has already had a multi-faceted impact on the US as whole. It has set the US economy on a path to recession; led (albeit potentially temporarily) to unemployment rates last seen during the Great Depression, and severely tested Donald Trump's leadership qualities in a crisis. In an election year to boot, the US electorate is assessing his every move.
Trump's initial response to the crisis - including touting the power of US testing - was taken relatively well. However, as the crisis deepened in both health and economic terms, his handling of the situation appeared increasingly chaotic, and in some instances (such as the suggestion of injecting ‘detergent' into the human body to defend against the virus) outright laughable.
By mid-May, when Covid-19 restrictions in much of the developed world were beginning to be lifted, Trump's approval rating was falling. At the time of writing, the average estimate places him at just 43.2% approval. According to the US analytics company Gallup, the average polling rating for elected presidents three and a half years into their first term is considerably higher, at 51%.
Does Trump need approval?
Modern history offers just three presidents who were overwhelmingly re-elected: Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Each had solid, positive net approval ratings (their approval rating minus their disapproval rating) a few months before re-election: Nixon at 17.7%, Clinton at 16.1% and Reagan at 15.3%. The last two presidents who were re-elected more narrowly - Barack Obama and George W Bush - had net approval ratings of 1.7% and -0.3% at the same stage. At the time of writing, Trump's net approval rating is a decidedly lacklustre -8.1%.