In voters’ own words, here’s how they view Biden and Trump

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With eight days left before Election Day, is there anything that can shift the state of the presidential race? The polls have been remarkably consistent, giving Joe Biden a solid lead over Donald Trump ever since the end of the Democratic primary campaign. Below, we’ll pull together polling conducted immediately after each of the presidential debates to examine how potential voters’ opinions changed—or didn’t—from the first to the last debate. 

This week’s polling highlights:

  • “There are only five states in the U.S. where voters younger than 35 embrace President Trump over Joe Biden, and none are swing states, according to new 50-state SurveyMonkey-Tableau data for Axios.” by Margaret Talev for Axios (link

  • “Just over half — 53 percent — of those who lost jobs during the coronavirus crisis have returned to work, according to a survey conducted this month for The New York Times by the online research firm SurveyMonkey.” by Ben Casselman for The New York Times (link)

  • “A majority of Americans say they don’t trust what President Trump has said about his health since testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, according to new data from the NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking poll.” by Melissa Holzberg and Ben Kamisar for NBC News (link

Debate reactions

The debates are some of only the handful of opportunities that any candidate in any presidential race has to reach millions of potential voters at once—and this year, with fewer in-person events possible because of the coronavirus, they became an even more central messaging opportunity for the Biden and Trump campaigns. 

In the hours immediately following both presidential debates, SurveyMonkey polled more than 2,000 people who either watched or followed debate coverage. (Read more about these polls in Axios here and here.) As part of those polls, we asked respondents to provide their reactions in their own words. Here’s what they said:

1. Everyone agrees: the first debate was a disaster

Democrats, Republicans, and independents all characterized the first debate with words like chaotic/chaos, embarrassing, ridiculous, terrible, and so on. 

With that as a baseline, reviews of the second debate could only improve! It’s a strange world when words like informative, average, predictable, normal, civil, and boring can be viewed as positives, but that’s where we’re at in 2020. 

2. Democrats’ views of Biden are unwavering.

Biden entered the race as a well-known entity, and throughout the campaign he sought more often to remind people of who he is at his core than to try to adapt himself to the changing whims of 2020. Some aspects of his more than forty years of public service turned out to be a distraction from if not totally detrimental to his campaign, as when he came under criticism for drafting the 1994 Crime Bill. But his consistent portrayal helped to solidify views of the candidate among Democrats, setting him up as a foil to President Trump in terms of his character as well as his political views. 

Presidential was the word used most often by Democrats when describing Joe Biden’s debate performance—both times. Professional, calm, and strong were also cited verbatim after both nights’ debates, and in general Democrats used consistent language to characterize their nominee. 

3. Republicans see Trump as strong, with different connotations from the first debate to the last

Republicans were not too pleased with Trump after the first debate; more than half (57%) said the main emotion they felt after the debate was “disappointment.” The word they used most often to sum up his performance was strong, but they also used words like aggressive, bully, childish, defensive, rude, combative, and impatient

Things improved significantly with the last debate, when strong was once again the most cited word to describe Trump’s performance among Republicans, but it was in much better company: presidential, confident, excellent, controlled, leader, etc. 

4. Neither candidate managed to change how he is seen by members of the opposite party.

Politics is about persuasion: convincing people to choose you rather than your opponent. Neither Biden nor Trump made much headway in persuading members of the opposite party after either debate. Democrats characterized Trump much the same way after the last debate as after the first: as childish, rude, embarrassing, a bully, and a liar

Republicans’ views of Biden were if anything even more entrenched. Weak, poor, confused, and liar were the top mentioned words after both nights of the debate. 

What we’re watching:

  • The Breakthrough, a project from CNN, SSRS, and researchers from Georgetown University and the University of Michigan, also uses respondents’ own words to track changes in the campaign over time. 

That’s it for this week—thanks for reading! Hit reply to send us any questions or feedback. 

  • Laura Wronski