President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House, July 23, 2020, in Washington.

President Donald Trump’s reelection prospects continue to fall as coronavirus cases in the United States surge.

The U.S. on Thursday recorded more than 1,100 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and passed a total of more than 4 million coronavirus infections since the first U.S. case was documented in January. The average number of new infections is now rising by more than 2,600 per hour nationwide, the highest rate in the world.

At the same time, public opinion surveys show Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee, leading Trump by 15 percentage points nationally and winning in battleground states and key demographics, such as older Americans, women and independent voters.

The latest Rasmussen Reports polls, which tend to report the most favorable ratings of Trump, showed Biden ahead in Pennsylvania and Ohio. A Fox News poll had Biden leading in Michigan, and a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday showed Biden beating Trump in Florida.

FILE - A supporter wears a face mask ahead of President Donald Trump's visit to an Owens and Minor warehouse in Allentown, Pa., May 14, 2020.

In 2016, Trump won all those states, some by very narrow margins, to pull off a historic upset victory in the presidential election against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

In analyzing recent polls, William Galston, a political analyst with the Brookings Institution, said increasing public disapproval of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic was the main cause for his drop in the polls.

“The more the 2020 election turns into a referendum on President Trump as crisis manager, the worse the outcome will be for him,” wrote Galston in an article posted on the Brookings website.

He also cautioned that the political outlook could change before the November election, that the president’s ratings could rebound if coronavirus outbreaks in the country were contained or if Biden made a major misstep.

Political reality

While Trump discounts the unfavorable ratings, emphasizing that he also trailed in the polls throughout the 2016 campaign, the president appears to be shifting his campaign strategy as well as the White House response to take the pandemic more seriously.

On Thursday, Trump abruptly canceled plans to hold the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, next month, a state that recorded more than 74,000 new coronavirus cases in the last week. The president said it had not yet been determined where he will give his acceptance speech for the party’s presidential nomination and that other events would be replaced with “tele-rallies.”

“I have to protect the American people. That’s what I’ve always done. That’s what I always will do. That’s what I’m about,” Trump said on Thursday during a White House briefing.

FILE - President Donald Trump points at the crowd as he enters his first re-election campaign rally in several months in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., June 20, 2020.

The president previously held a crowded rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and an Independence Day celebration at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, where a number of people tested positive for the coronavirus. They included Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News anchor-turned-fundraiser for the president’s reelection. Guilfoyle is the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son.

In June, the Democratic National Committee decided to scale back its convention scheduled for next month in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and make it “nearly all virtual.” The DNC said state delegations would vote remotely. Satellite events will be held around the country, but Biden will accept the party nomination in person at a small venue with a limited number of attendees and with social distance protocols in effect.

Pandemic focus

This week the president also acknowledged the coronavirus would “get worse before it gets better” while holding his first pandemic response briefing in nearly three months. He urged the public to wear masks and “socially distance” to contain the spread of the virus.

Trump even wore a mask in public for the first time and posted a photo on Twitter of himself wearing a mask. A caption stated that wearing a face covering during the pandemic is patriotic, and “There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!”

FILE - President Donald Trump wears a mask during his visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., July 11, 2020.

Before this turnaround, the president had been downplaying the severity of the pandemic. He had said it would one day “fade away,” and he urged states to ease restrictions and reopen businesses despite the rising number of cases overwhelming hospital intensive care units in states like Florida and Texas.

The president even accused Democrats of wanting to keep schools closed for political reasons and threatened to cut off federal funding to schools that do not reopen.

Trump this week, however, said states that are currently coronavirus hot spots may need to delay reopening schools by a few weeks.

The president on Tuesday also said his administration was “in the process of developing a strategy” to end the coronavirus pandemic ultimately by developing an effective vaccine.