BATTLEGROUND POLL: Americans have soured on Trump’s failed leadership

June 11, 2020

TO: Interested Parties

FROM: Priorities USA, Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group

DATE: June 11, 2020

RE: Battleground Poll: Americans have soured on Trump’s failed leadership


There is no doubt these are difficult times in America. More than 100,000 lives have already been lost to a deadly pandemic, with no end in sight. Nearly 43 million people have now lost their jobs and the president has offered no plan to get them back to work. And now, Trump has launched violent attacks against peaceful protestors calling for justice.

As we continue to confront these concurrent crises, Priorities USA’s new battleground state survey, conducted by Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group, reveals that a strong majority of voters in key states have soured on Donald Trump’s failed leadership and no longer believe he has the capacity to deliver on the issues that are most important to their families — from health care to the coronavirus pandemic to fighting for the middle class.

Americans are looking for a leader — and Joe Biden fits the description, holding significant leads over Trump on a variety of leadership traits and important issues. These advantages open up several potential messaging lanes for Democrats to effectively prosecute the case against Trump’s failed presidency and lay the foundation to win back the White House in November, such as:

  • When it comes to the coronavirus, health care, and the economy, Donald Trump is only making things worse.

  • Trump downplayed the threat of coronavirus, ignored experts, and failed to prepare. Now more than 110,000 Americans have died and over 40 million are unemployed.

  • Trump’s dangerous policies on health care, Medicare, and Social Security would drive up costs, leave millions uninsured, and eliminate critical protections.

  • Trump’s economic policies have betrayed working and middle-class families.

(NOTE: The survey — which fielded between May 22 and June 1, prior to many of the recent protests — does not necessarily reflect those ongoing events or any effect they may have on voter sentiment.)

Voters are pessimistic about the direction of the country under Trump — and excited about voting in November.

As the country continues to battle multiple crises, our survey reveals that a strong majority of voters in key swing states increasingly feel the country is heading in the wrong direction under Donald Trump — and that doesn’t bode well for the president’s reelection chances in November.

Sixty percent of respondents indicate that things in the country have changed for the worse compared with a few years ago, while only 31% feel things have changed for the better. This finding represents a significant surge in pessimism about the state of the nation, which is unmatched in any of our previous polling.

When we last asked this question in February 2020, respondents were evenly split, with 45% saying things had changed for the better and the same proportion saying things had changed for the worse. At no point since Priorities began tracking the question in early 2019 had the “changed for the worse” number exceeded 54% — a level it hit only once, back in October.

At the same time, a large majority of respondents, 76%, indicate that they are highly motivated and enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming election. This number remains virtually unchanged from previous surveys conducted in February 2020 and October 2019.

Despite much media hand-wringing to the contrary, our results suggest that Democrats are just as enthusiastic about voting this fall as their Republican counterparts. Seventy-seven percent of self-identified Democrats say they are very or somewhat excited to vote in November, compared to 80% of Republicans — within the poll’s margin for error. The so-called “enthusiasm gap” is nonexistent.

Voters are still focused on health care. 

Despite all the changes that have transformed American life over the past several months, some aspects of the race have remained remarkably stable. Chief among them is the electorate’s continued focus on health care. For the fifth straight iteration of this poll, respondents cite health care as the most important issue to them, with 50% of voters choosing it as one of their top four issues.

Voters’ persistent focus on health care is a bad sign for Trump. According to our survey, the president’s approval rating on the issue currently sits 11 points underwater — with 53% of respondents disapproving of his performance, compared to only 42 percent who approve. This reflects an 8-point net drop from Trump’s previous health care approval rating in our March poll, which showed 45 approving of his performance and 48 disapproving.

Trump’s weakness on health care presents serious problems for his electoral prospects. When asked which candidate would be better at “making sure people have access to affordable health care,” respondents pick Joe Biden over Trump by a massive 18-point margin, 47% to 29%. Running nearly 20 points behind your opponent on voters’ top issue seems like a poor recipe for reelection.

Trump’s initial coronavirus bounce has evaporated.

It’s not hard to see why health care remains top of mind for voters: despite Trump’s attempts to ignore it, the nation is still in the midst of a once-in-a-century health crisis. As the pandemic rages on, voters continue to focus on it, with 48% of respondents citing coronavirus as one of their four most important issues — second among all issues, trailing only health care.

After experiencing an early bump in approval for his handling of the crisis, Trump’s initial coronavirus bounce has now completely disappeared — and then some. Voters’ assessment of the president’s performance in response to the pandemic plummeted in our most recent poll, with 45% approving and 53% disapproving. That represents a dramatic, 11-point turnaround from our March poll where Trump was above water on the issue, with 49% of respondents approving and 46% disapproving.

Fifty-five percent of voters say Trump has consistently downplayed the crisis and not taken it seriously enough, compared to only 39% who say Trump has taken the situation seriously and done everything he could. Similarly, 54% of respondents feel that Trump moved too slowly and hasn’t done enough in his response to the pandemic, while 39% believe he has acted quickly and done all he could.

While Trump may try to convince us that more than 110,000 deaths and over 42 million lost jobs qualifies as a “success,” voters aren’t fooled. When asked how they view Trump’s handling of the crisis to date, 52% call it a failure in leadership, while only 44% say it represents a positive accomplishment.

As a result, Trump finds himself trailing Biden here, too. When asked which candidate would be better at “protecting the public’s health in an emergency like the coronavirus pandemic,” Biden bests Trump by 8 points, 43% to 35%.

Voters are looking for leadership — and Trump doesn’t have what it takes.

Trump’s precarious position on the pandemic and other issues can be traced back to one big weakness: his failure to lead. At a time when America is grappling with so many significant challenges, voters are looking for a president capable of guiding the country through these difficult times — and Trump has failed that test.

Overwhelmingly, voters do not believe Trump possesses the qualities needed to steer the country back in a positive direction. Roughly two-thirds of survey respondents indicate that Trump does not have the right temperament that the nation needs in a president. By contrast, when asked which candidate would be better at “having the right temperament, and behaving in the way a president should,” voters favor Joe Biden over the president by a massive 23-point margin, 50% to 27%.

And Trump’s problems don’t stop with his bad behavior. As the table above shows, Biden also holds a significant edge on several other key leadership qualities. At a time when the country is yearning for unity, voters view Biden as the candidate more likely to “bring people together and unite the country” by 15 points. In a similar vein, the former vice president also holds a double-digit advantage when voters are asked who would be better at “helping the middle class and working families” and “caring about people like you.”

America needs a turnaround, and people believe Joe Biden can get the job done.

Democrats have strong arguments that connect Trump’s failed leadership to people’s pain.

Trump’s failed leadership has opened up a variety of effective messaging lanes for Democrats. Among the most damaging messages are arguments that connect the president’s failures and impulsive behavior to the significant pain that everyday Americans are experiencing during these challenging times.

Voters have long disapproved of how Trump conducts himself and represents his office, but it was not always immediately clear how his antics negatively impacted their lives, blunting the effectiveness of Democratic messages on the topic. However, as Trump has floundered and lashed out in the face of the current crises, voters now see clearly how the chaos enveloping the Oval Office has real-world consequences for the American people.

For example, out of a battery of negative messages about Trump’s failed leadership, all seven messages spark “major concerns” among more than 52% of voters, and six of the seven register major concerns for at least 60% of swing voters. The most damaging message — hitting 56% among all respondents and 74% among swing voters — focuses on how Trump’s chaos has informed his inability to meet this moment:

Donald Trump said, “I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” and that is what he has done, acting impulsively and causing chaos in our lives. Even now, with a rising coronavirus death toll and skyrocketing unemployment, Trump continues doing whatever he wants. He’s constantly twisting the truth, downplaying the threat, contradicting his own public health experts, and deflecting blame onto others.

From his failure to prepare to his inability to control his own ego to his unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions, Democrats have no shortage of messages that hold Trump accountable for his disastrous leadership.

Democrats should continue to call out Trump’s attacks on Americans’ health care and retirement 

Even as Trump’s failure to respond to multiple ongoing crises continues to dominate the news cycle, voters haven’t forgotten about the president’s other attacks on their lives and livelihoods — from his never-ending assault on affordable health care to his perennial plans for cutting important retirement programs. These issues remain highly salient for voters in the current context, and Democrats should continue to drive messages that hold Trump accountable for his actions.

In the survey, the top-testing message in this lane highlights Trump’s continued efforts to cut Medicare and Social Security in order to pay down the cost of his tax cuts for billionaires and big corporations. Fifty-nine percent of respondents say the information raised major concerns about voting for Trump in November, with 65% of swing voters saying the same.

Millions of Americans are losing their retirement savings, but Donald Trump wants to cut billions from Medicare and Social Security to pay down the cost of his tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. In his budget plan for 2021, Trump proposed $24 billion in cuts to Social Security and $451 billion in cuts to Medicare.

Trump’s attacks on the Affordable Care Act are nearly as concerning to voters. We tested several messages that addressed the topic, with all messages raising major concerns among at least 53% of respondents and more than 56% of swing voters. The most damaging variation, which sparks major concerns for 55% of all voters and 57% of swing voters, stresses how Trump’s ongoing efforts to destroy the ACA could harm people by taking away their health insurance in the middle of a pandemic:

As the country faces a healthcare crisis due to coronavirus, Donald Trump is doubling down on his quest to destroy Obamacare. If he succeeds, 20 million more Americans would lose coverage and healthcare costs would go up, while insurance companies could discriminate against patients with pre-existing conditions and offer junk plans that allow them to charge outrageous prices for coronavirus treatment –all in the middle of a pandemic.

About This Poll

Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group conducted this poll online from May 22 to June 1, 2020, with a total sample of 3,482 voters, with representative subsamples of 800 voters in Florida, 600 voters in Pennsylvania, 600 voters in Michigan, 482 voters in Wisconsin, 500 voters in Arizona and 500 voters in Wisconsin. The states were weighted together based on the number of electoral votes each one represents.  The distribution of voters across demographic, geographic, and political factors reflect the expected composition of the 2020 electorate in each state.