Democrats and Republicans vie to set the agenda in the final days of the 2020 campaign, but voters have come to their own conclusions. Americans view the coronavirus pandemic as more critical than any other problem, and they are not happy with the way it has been handled. This is one of the main findings of the annual survey of American values, released Monday and conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Brookings Institution, where I am an academic.
Some 69% of Americans think the country could have dealt with Covid-19 more effectively, and 65% disapprove of the way President Trump handled the disease, including 61% of seniors, 65% of Americans in swing states of Sunbelt and 66% in Rust Belt Swing States. Mr Trump’s attacks on governors and mayors who have taken strong action to contain the disease are unlikely to change much: 76% of Americans, including 56% of Republicans, believe actions like that closures and mask warrants by state and local authorities are reasonable measures to protect public health and safety, and not unreasonable restrictions on individual liberty.
Americans have come to favor policies that many would oppose under less threatening circumstances. Almost 80% of them agree that things are going so badly that major policy changes are needed to help ordinary Americans. Strong majorities now support affordable child care, a guaranteed minimum income, free tuition at public universities, and a version of Medicare for All. All of these have majority support across racial and ethnic lines, and two – affordable child care and a guaranteed minimum income – also across partisan divisions. Support for these measures may wane as details and costs are discussed. But for now, supporters of increased government action are playing offense while opponents are defending.
Another case – this summer’s protests over the murders of black Americans by police – is against Mr. Trump. Sixty-four percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s response to these events, including 62% of seniors, 63% of Americans in the Sunbelt swing states, and 65% in the Rust Belt swing states. Mr. Trump’s efforts to reframe this issue were unsuccessful: 56% of Americans view police killings of blacks as part of a larger pattern rather than isolated incidents, and 58% of Americans support the objectives of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here as elsewhere, however, there are deep divisions along racial and partisan lines. About half of white Americans consider these murders to be isolated incidents, compared to 36% of Hispanics and only 14% of blacks. Likewise, 79% of Republicans consider the murders to be isolated incidents, compared to 40% of independents and only 17% of Democrats.
Then there is criminal justice. While 52% of Americans think slavery and discrimination made it difficult for blacks to rise, 79% of Republicans disagree. Indeed, 59% of Republicans think white people face “a lot of discrimination”, compared to only 49% of Republicans who think black people do. About 54% of Republicans believe diversity efforts come at the expense of whites, compared to 34% of all Americans.
Mr. Trump’s character and personal conduct add to his troubles. About half of Americans say Mr. Biden has the right temperament and personality to be president, compared to 25% who say that of Mr. Trump. When asked who cares more about “people like you” and who is more “honest and trustworthy,” the former vice president leads the president with similar margins. Thirty-six percent of Americans say Joe Biden has strong religious beliefs, compared to 18% for Donald Trump. Almost 40% say Mr. Trump primarily uses religion for political purposes, while only 14% say that about Mr. Biden.
These criticisms go to the heart of the Trump presidency: 68% of Americans want Mr. Trump to speak and behave more like previous presidents, while 63% believe he has undermined the dignity of the presidency. Almost 6 in 10 Americans say his personal conduct makes them less likely to support him for re-election.
Mr. Trump has worked hard to get the American people to see their Democratic challenger as an unacceptable alternative. He alleged that Mr Biden lacks the energy and mental acuity needed for the presidency, that he is either a socialist or an instrument of the socialists in his party, and that he and his son are corrupt. These accusations inflame the president’s base, but there is no evidence that they are winning many converts. With two weeks and a debate over, President Trump is reduced to begging the women of the suburbs to love him. Unfortunately for him, most don’t.
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