Election 2020 Politics

Trump’s biggest deficit against Biden: Empathy

The poll finds that the president who was supposedly elected based in large part on his ability to speak to the concerns of working-class white Americans is now at a very significant deficit when it comes to caring about regular people.

While 42 percent of Americans agree that Trump cares about “average Americans,” 61 percent say the same about Biden. Trump is minus-14 on this count (42 percent positive vs. 56 percent negative), while Biden is plus-31 (61-30).

Among white voters without college degrees, Trump is in significantly better shape, with those voters saying 60-37 that he cares about average Americans, compared to 48-44 for Biden. But among all white voters, Biden is plus-22 (58-36) while Trump is just plus-2 (50-48). The gap is massive among minority voters.

That overall gap is even bigger than it was during the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton enjoyed an advantage on this question but not to the magnitude Biden does. In September that year, 53 percent of Americans said the former secretary of state cared about average Americans, while 44 percent said the same of Trump. That nine-point gap is now 19 points in favor of Biden.

It’s important to note that this smaller empathy gap obviously didn’t make the difference for Clinton. The same poll showed people viewed Trump as being significantly less qualified to be president and also less levelheaded than Clinton, and yet, two months later, he won. Exit polls showed just 15 percent of voters said having a president who “cares about me” was their top priority.

Trump’s win was apparently in large part because of his other attributes. It was a change election, in which Trump pledged to shake up Washington. People who didn’t like either him or Clinton wound up going for Trump strongly, despite viewing Clinton as the more prepared politician.

Today, that’s significantly less the case. People who dislike both Trump and Biden now lean strongly toward Biden. That doesn’t mean it will always be thus, but it suggests those who recognize Trump’s liabilities are increasingly willing to vote for the alternative.

And chief among those liabilities appears to be empathy. Of all the issues on which Quinnipiac compares the two 2020 candidates, none carries the same imbalance.

Trump’s number on this is similar to where his approval rating has been for a long time. Biden, though, seems to carry inordinate benefit from it. While 45 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Biden in the same poll, his empathy number jumps 16 points. And while 41 percent have an unfavorable impression of the former vice president, that number drops to 30 percent when it comes to whether he cares about average Americans.

The big question from here is whether that matters more than in 2016. Voters generally favor the economy and leadership. And to the extent people want someone to rescue the country from a recession, that could accrue to Trump’s benefit, given his superior numbers on the economy.

But as the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak continues, other concerns could logically creep into the picture. And if people think the election is about empathy and “feeling your pain” — in a country currently experiencing plenty of it — Biden appears significantly better positioned to speak to that.

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