Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Amid Campaign Turmoil, Biden Holds Wide Leads on Coronavirus, Unifying the Country

Most Trump, Biden supporters say their differences go beyond policies to ‘core American values and goals’

Trump and Biden debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29. (Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)
Trump and Biden debate in Cleveland on Sept. 29. (Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)
How we did this

Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand how Americans view the upcoming 2020 presidential election and the presidential candidates. For this analysis, we surveyed 11,929 U.S. adults, including 10,543 registered voters, during the last week of September and the first week of October 2020. The survey was in the field when Trump announced, early on the morning of Oct. 2, that he and first lady Melania Trump had contracted COVID-19.

Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.

The 2020 presidential campaign has been repeatedly rocked by seismic events – from the outbreak of a devastating pandemic to President Donald Trump contracting COVID-19. Yet in at least two important respects, not much has changed: Joe Biden continues to hold sizable advantages over Trump on most major issues and key personal traits, as well as in overall voter preferences. And voters continue to be highly focused on the election and attach great importance to its outcome.

Biden has overall lead over Trump and holds advantages on most issues

With less than a month to go before the election, a majority of registered voters (57%) say they are very or somewhat confident in Biden to handle the public health impact of the coronavirus, while 40% express a similar level of confidence in Trump. In June, Biden held a narrower, 11 percentage point lead on handling the coronavirus outbreak (52% Biden, 41% Trump).

At a time of deep political divisions and partisan antipathy, voters are far more likely to express confidence in Biden than Trump to unify the country. Half of voters (50%) say they are confident in Biden to “bring the country closer together,” compared with just 30% who express confidence in Trump.

The new survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 5 among 11,929 U.S. adults, including 10,543 registered voters, finds that Biden maintains an overall lead in voter preferences: 52% of registered voters say if the election were held today, they would vote for Biden or lean toward voting for him, while 42% support or lean toward voting for Trump. Another 4% of voters back Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, while 1% support Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins in the 2020 election. (See detailed tables for full demographic breaks on voter preferences.)

The survey was in the field when Trump announced on Twitter, early on the morning of Oct. 2, that he and first lady Melania Trump had contracted COVID-19. There are no significant differences in voter preferences, or in confidence in the two candidates to handle the impact of the coronavirus, before and after his announcement.

Trump’s handling of the nation’s economy remains a relative strong point. About half of voters (52%) express confidence in Trump to make good decisions about economic policy, one the highest shares expressing confidence in the president on any of the six issues on the survey. However, about as many voters (51%) have confidence in Biden on the economy.

Since summer, there has been some improvement in views of the nation’s economy. Among all voters, 35% say economic conditions are excellent or good, up from 28% in June. However, this change has come almost entirely among Trump supporters. And the gap in economic perceptions, already wide, has grown much wider. Two-thirds (67%) of Trump supporters now say that economic conditions are excellent or good, compared with 51% who said this in June. Just 11% of Biden supporters view economic conditions positively, which is little changed from four months ago (9%).

The survey finds that voters view Biden much more positively than Trump for compassion, honesty and being a good role model. Nearly twice as many voters say “compassionate” describes Biden very or fairly well than say it applies to Trump (67% vs. 34%). More than half of voters (53%) say Biden is honest, compared with 35% who describe Trump as honest. And far more voters say Biden is a good role model (54% vs. 28%).

Far more voters describe Biden than Trump as compassionate and a good role model

The gap is narrower on other personal attributes. Biden holds a narrow 6-point edge in “courageous” (54% Biden, 48% Trump); slightly more say Trump than Biden is mentally sharp (50% Trump, 46% Biden). Among six personal traits included, Trump holds his widest edge in standing up for his beliefs: 69% say this describes Trump very or fairly well, compared with 61% who say it describes Biden well.

The share of Biden supporters who back him strongly has increased since August, though he still trails Trump in strong support. A 57% majority of voters who favor Biden say they support him strongly. Biden drew strong backing from fewer than half of his supporters (46%) two months ago. About two-thirds of those who back Trump (68%) say they support him strongly.

As was the case in the summer, voters’ preferences – regardless of whom they favor – remain very much centered on Trump. Just 36% of Biden voters view their vote more as an expression of support for the former vice president; 63% view it as vote against Trump. By contrast, 71% of Trump supporters say their vote is a vote for Trump. These views have changed only modestly since June.

The supporters of both candidates remain highly engaged in the election. Identical shares of registered voters who favor Trump and Biden (71% each) say they have given a lot of thought to the candidates running for president. And nearly eight-in-ten voters (78%) – again, comparable majorities of both candidates’ supporters – say it “really matters” who wins.

While voters on both sides share a sense of the importance of the election, they also share concern about the country’s future if the opposing candidate wins. Fully 89% of Trump supporters say that if Biden wins, they not only would be very concerned over the country’s direction, they believe it would lead to “lasting harm” for the country. A nearly identical majority of Biden supporters (90%) say Trump’s election would result in lasting harm to the United States.

Only about one-in-five Trump and Biden supporters say they share the same core American values and goals

And voters who support both Trump and Biden say their differences extend beyond policies to disagreements over core values. Overwhelming shares of voters who support each candidate say that, when asked to think about those who favor their opposing candidate, they not only have different views on politics and policies, they also have “fundamental disagreements on core American values and goals.”

Roughly eight-in-ten of those who support Biden (80%) and Trump (77%) say they fundamentally disagree about core values; only about one-in-five say their differences are limited to politics and policies.

However, there is a widespread sense among voters that if their candidate wins the election, the next president should primarily focus on the concerns of all Americans, not just those who voted for him. This view – like the belief that the country may face lasting harm if the opposing candidate wins – is shared widely among the supporters of both candidates. Fully 89% of Biden supporters and 86% of Trump supporters say that if their candidate is victorious, he should focus primarily on the concerns of all Americans, even if it means disappointing some of his supporters.

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