Movement where it matters: a post-conventions shift with independents


Starting on Aug. 18, the second day of the Democratic convention, and ending Aug. 28, the day after the Republican convention ended, the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll conducted a survey of 3,932 respondents (94 percent of them registered voters) fielded by Nielsen Scarborough. The survey probed attitudes toward the November election, the pandemic, race relations and other issues. It tracked daily attitudes regarding Joe Biden and Donald Trump as well as key issues, including ones that were the subjects of both conventions.

In addition, we combined data from the first six days that preceded the Republican convention with data from the five days spanning the GOP convention and the day after. To get a meaningful comparison, we weighted each part separately across party and national demographic lines, providing two distinct nationally representative samples, one with 2,208 respondents (for Aug. 18-23), the second with 1,724 respondents (for Aug. 24-28).

The results reveal no evidence of a Trump bump over the period, and some encouraging evidence for Biden.

First, if the election were held today, overall Biden would lead Trump by ten points, 48 percent to 38 percent. While Biden’s support increased daily during the Democratic convention and for two days after, Trump’s support fluctuated during the Republican convention, increasing after the first day, dipping after the second, then rising and spiking after Trump’s speech. Comparing the results of the first six days with the results of the last five, there was some overall change — from 39 percent for Trump and 48 percent for Biden after the first period, to 37 percent and 50 percent, respectively, after the second period. The most notable change was among independents: from 16 percent to 14 percent for Trump, and from 31 to 39 percent for Biden, between the first and second periods.

Second, Democrats appear more motivated to vote, with 85 percent saying they are very motivated compared to 80 percent among Republicans, with little change from one convention to the next.

Third, Trump is the most important factor in vote choice for all segments, both for and against. Overall, 39 percent of respondents said a vote against Trump and his agenda was most important, while 25 percent cited a vote to support Trump and his agenda. This compares with 27 percent who say the most important factor is agreeing with a candidate’s policies, 7 percent who prioritize the Supreme Court, and 2 percent who prioritize party loyalty. There was little change in these priorities from the first period to the second.

Fourth, 48 percent of Americans say Trump never tells the truth, compared to 25 percent who say Biden never does. Almost half of Republicans (49 percent) think Trump tells the truth “most of the time” compared to only 2 percent of Democrats. And 58 percent of Democrats said Biden tells the truth “most of the time” compared to only 8 percent of Republicans. These results remained relatively constant. A related question probed the authenticity of the candidates, with 37 percent of respondents saying Biden is “not authentic” compared to 52 percent who said the same of Trump.

Fifth, a majority have a favorable view of Black Lives Matter and support the movement. The results changed somewhat during and after the Republican convention, but only at the margins. Support remained at 56 percent during the first six days of the poll covering the Democratic convention and post-convention to the five days covering the Republican convention and the day after.

Sixth, 68 percent say it is inappropriate for President Trump to refer to the coronavirus as the “China virus” or “kung flu,” with 95 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of independents objecting to those terms. These opinions did not change much from the Democratic to the Republican conventions.

Seventh, President Trump’s attacks on the media show results among his supporters in surprising ways. Republicans doubt the accuracy even of the media they follow, including Fox News. Overall, 55 percent said coverage of COVID-19 by the media they follow was mostly/somewhat accurate, compared with 40 percent who said it’s mostly/somewhat inaccurate. Among Republicans, however, 65 percent said the media they follow was mostly/somewhat inaccurate, while 79 percent of Democrats said the media they follow is mostly/somewhat accurate. Assuming that Republican attitudes are at least partly responsive to Trump’s view of the media generally, it had the consequence of devaluing the media outlets Republicans tend to watch most. Thus, when we cross-tabulated this question with the media outlets respondents said they watch most for news, Fox performed most poorly, with only 37 percent of its watchers saying coronavirus coverage was mostly/somewhat accurate, compared to 89 percent among MSBNC viewers, 71 percent among CNN viewers, and 64 percent among network TV news-watchers.

Eighth, a majority of respondents said the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) performance in Portland and other cities was wrong, with a noticeable partisan divide: 84 percent of Republicans said it was the right use of DHS, whereas only 9 percent of Democrats felt so. On the other hand, 89 percent of Democrats said it was the wrong use of DHS, compared to only 13 percent of Republicans. Among those who viewed this as the wrong use of DHS, a large majority (including among the minority of Republicans who objected) said such behavior took the U.S. on a path away from democracy and toward fascism.

Ninth, Trump’s attacks on voting by mail appear to be having an impact, even as majorities of Americans across the partisan divide said they would vote by mail if this option were available. Respondents were almost evenly divided, with 49 percent saying that vote-by-mail increases the chance of voter fraud while 50 percent disagreed. As on almost all issues, there was a significant partisan divide but, importantly, with independents divided down the middle, 50 percent to 49 percent. There was no significant change from one convention to the other.

Lastly, 58 percent — including 87 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents — oppose reopening K-12 schools this fall, while 73 percent of Republicans support reopening. There was no difference from one convention to the other.

All in all, the results suggest no significant change among partisans over the course of the two conventions — but some evidence suggests not only a gain for Biden among independents but also public views on some key issues that are closer to his than to those of the president.

Shibley Telhami is professor of government and politics and director of the Critical Issues Poll at the University of Maryland. A nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, he has advised several administrations and members of Congress on foreign policy and is the author of numerous books, including “The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East” (2013) and “The Peace Puzzle: America’s Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011” (2013).

Stella M. Rouse is an associate professor in the Department of Government and Politics, director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement, and associate director of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll at the University of Maryland. Her most recent book (co-authored with Ashley Ross) is “The Politics of Millennials: Political Beliefs and Policy Preferences of America’s Most Diverse Generation.”

Tags 2020 presidential election 2020 presidential polls Donald Trump election polling Independent voters Joe Biden

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