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American voters prefer Biden over Trump on almost all major issues, according to a poll


Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin

Joe Biden holds a 9-point lead over President Donald Trump amid widespread public alarm about the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic and demand among voters for large-scale government action to right the economy, according to a national poll of likely voters conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.

With just two weeks left in the campaign, Trump does not hold an edge on any of the most pressing issues at stake in the election, leaving him with little room for a political recovery absent a calamitous misstep by Biden, the Democratic nominee, in the coming days. The president has even lost his longstanding advantage on economic matters: Voters are now evenly split on whether they have more trust in him or Biden to manage the economy.

On all other subjects tested in the poll, voters preferred Biden over Trump by modest or wide margins. Biden, the former vice president, is favored over Trump to lead on the coronavirus pandemic by 12 points, and voters trust Biden over Trump to choose Supreme Court justices and to maintain law and order by 6-point margins. Americans see Biden as more capable of uniting the country by nearly 20 points.

Overall, Biden is backed by 50% of likely voters, the poll showed, compared with 41% for Trump and 3% divided among other candidates.Most of all, the survey makes clear that crucial constituencies are poised to reject Trump because they cannot abide his conduct, including 56% of women and 53% of white voters with college degrees who said they had a very unfavorable impression of Trump — an extraordinary level of antipathy toward an incumbent president.

His diminished standing on economic matters and law and order is a damaging setback for the president, who for much of the general election has staked his fortunes on persuading Americans that a Biden administration will leave them impoverished and unsafe. But that argument has not managed to move the electorate in his direction.

Nor, according to the poll, have Trump’s efforts to tarnish Biden’s personal image and make him unacceptable to swing voters. Fifty-three percent of voters said they viewed Biden in somewhat or very favorable terms, compared with 43% who said the same of Trump.

A majority of voters said they saw Trump unfavorably, with 48% viewing him very unfavorably.

The margin of sampling error for the poll, which was conducted from Oct. 15 to 18, was 3.4 percentage points.

Part of the shift away from Trump on the economy may stem from voters’ urgent hunger for new relief spending from the federal government — which Trump has nominally endorsed but which he has not sought actively to extract from congressional Republicans.

Seven in 10 voters, including more than half of Republicans, said they wanted to see a new multitrillion-dollar stimulus program that includes government support for citizens and emergency help for state and local governments. There is also widespread public support for a $2 trillion renewable energy and infrastructure package that Biden has proposed as a form of economic stimulus.

Michael Zemaitis, an independent voter in Minnesota, said that he did not have complete confidence in Biden but that he saw him as a clearly superior option to Trump when it came to the pandemic and the economy.

“I guess I would say I have 70% confidence in him,” said Zemaitis, 49, who said he believed a Democratic administration would better handle the coronavirus pandemic. “Once that is dealt with, the economy will fall back into line.”

Voters have also been unpersuaded by Trump’s insistence, in defiance of public facts, that the coronavirus is receding as a problem. A slim majority of voters said they believed that the worst of the pandemic was yet to come, compared with 37% who said the worst was over.

But many voters also seem to be separating their personal well-being from their views on the state of the country. About half said that they were personally better off than they were four years ago, compared with 32% who said they were worse off. However, a clear majority of voters — 55% — said the country as a whole was doing worse than in 2016.

Trump retains a few important bastions of support, most notably among white voters without college degrees, who continue to favor him over Biden by 23 percentage points. But that lead is far narrower than the advantage Trump held among less-educated whites in 2016, when those voters preferred him over Hillary Clinton by 37 points.

Biden is on track to win with the overwhelming support of women, people of color and whites with college degrees. If women alone voted, the election would be a landslide of epic proportions: Biden is ahead of Trump among female voters by 23 points, 58% to 35%. And unlike four years ago, the Democratic nominee is leading Trump among white women by a formidable margin, 52% to 43%.

Kathryn Jorgensen, 51, a registered Republican in Brookfield, Wisconsin, said that she did not vote for Trump in 2016 and would not do so this year. Trump, she said, has been “so divisive” throughout his tenure as president.

“The important thing is bringing the country back together and addressing the divisions affecting people like racial equity,” Jorgensen said.

A rare spot of welcome news for Republicans came on the subject of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court: While more voters said they would like to see Biden choose future justices, rather than Trump, a plurality of voters also said that the Senate should vote on Barrett’s nomination before the election.

Voters were about evenly split on Barrett as a nominee, indicating that the Supreme Court fight had not given a clear electoral advantage to either party. But a sizable number of voters — about 1 in 7 — gave no opinion, suggesting the court fight had not become an all-consuming issue. Forty-four percent of voters supported Barrett’s nomination, 42% opposed it, and the remainder declined to take a position.

If Biden win the election, it remains to be seen whether he will be a compelling enough president to meld a broad array of anti-Trump constituencies into a sturdy governing alliance.

Cassandra Williams, 21, of Greenville, North Carolina, said she saw Biden as a flawed candidate who might nevertheless be sufficient for the moment. A college student majoring in chemistry, Williams said she hoped he would focus on the coronavirus and climate change at the outset of his presidency.

“If his opponent wasn’t President Trump, he would be a subpar candidate,” said Williams, who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic primary race.

The poll shows that Trump is facing widespread rebuke because he has not met the great challenge of his presidency.

Voters remain deeply concerned about the virus, with 51% of those sampled saying they feared the worst of COVID-19 was still to come, and just 37% saying they believed the worst was over. Among voters over 65, a bloc that has drifted away from Trump, the difference was even starker: Fifty-six percent said they worried the worst was still to come, and only 29% said the opposite.

Even more striking was the disconnect between Trump’s cavalier approach toward wearing a mask to guard against the virus and the broad support to mandate the practice in public.

Voters supported mandatory mask-wearing, 59% to 39% overall, and among women support for a mandate grew to 70%. Among voters over 65, 68% favored it, and even about 30% of Republicans said they backed a nationwide requirement.

There was also hesitation on taking an eventual vaccine for the coronavirus, with 33% saying they would definitely or probably not take a vaccine after it was approved by the FDA.

Biden, if he wins, will find consensus on some of his policy priorities. Two in three voters supported allowing people to buy a health insurance plan through the federal government, a so-called public option, and the same supermajority backed Biden’s $2 trillion plan to increase the use of renewable energy and build energy-efficient infrastructure.

Even more voters, 72%, said they backed the sort of package House Democrats have been seeking for months to send to Trump: a $2 trillion stimulus package that would extend increased unemployment insurance, send stimulus checks to most Americans and provide financial support to state and local governments.

In a sign of how broad the support is for additional relief, and the risk congressional Republicans may be taking if they block further spending, even 56% of Republicans said they backed another $2 trillion package.

What may prove riskier for Biden and his party, though, is the issue that he has for weeks sought to avoid staking out a clear position on: adding more justices to the Supreme Court. The poll showed that 58% of voters said Democrats should not expand the court beyond nine justices, and 31% said they should. Opposition was even firmer among independents: Sixty-five percent of them said they were against enlarging the court.

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