Voters’ Emotional Reactions a Barrier for Trump

Results of nationwide GW Politics Poll showed President Donald Trump is more likely than Joe Biden to generate “anger and disgust” in voters.

image of GW Politics Poll logo
November 02, 2020

How President Donald Trump makes voters feel may be a barrier to his path to victory, according to new polling research from the George Washington University.

In the nationwide GW Politics Poll, released today, when registered voters were asked about their emotional reactions to candidates, Democratic candidate Joe Biden held a 10-point advantage on “hopeful and proud” reactions. By contrast Mr. Trump was more likely to generate anger, disgust and fear in the electorate than Mr. Biden, with 70 percent saying they have felt anger and disgust because of President Trump.

These emotions are even evident among Republicans and independent-leaning Republicans. On angry and disgusted, just over 40% of Republicans say Mr. Trump makes them feel that way at least some of the time.

“With political science research showing that emotions play a prominent role in shaping both voters’ choices and turnout, Americans’ feelings about the president are one reason his path to reelection is fraught,” GW researchers Danny Hayes and Kimberly Gross said of the poll findings. “He makes a lot of voters, even some of his own supporters, feel bad. This makes his pitch to voters to like and support him, beyond his core constituency, difficult.”

Research also shows that when people are mad they are more likely to show up at the polls (or mail in their ballots). Nearly all Democrats polled expressed anger in conjunction with Trump, which may be helping to drive high early Democratic turnout. 

One bright spot for the president, however, is that those who say they are voting for him are more enthusiastic about supporting him than are Biden’s supporters. Of those who say they are voting for Mr. Trump, 75 percent say they are very enthusiastic about supporting him. Only 59 percent of those who say they are voting for Mr. Biden say they are very enthusiastic about supporting Mr. Biden.

This enthusiasm is likely important for the president. When asked how they planned to vote (among those who had not already voted), 53 percent of Republicans said they planned to vote in person on election day. That level of enthusiasm should help with getting out the Republican vote on election day, something Mr. Trump will need given the Democratic advantage in early voting.   

Republicans surveyed felt angry or disgusted at least some of the time toward Mr. Trump at 44 and 42 percent respectively, while also feeling angry (90 percent) and disgusted (82 percent) toward Mr. Biden. Among Democrats, 94 and 97 percent report feeling angry and disgusted toward Trump respectively, while also feeling angry (30 percent) or disgusted (26 percent) at least some of the time with their own candidate. 

The poll showed Mr. Biden with a 10-point lead nationally. Voters were more confident in Mr. Biden’s ability to deal with the pandemic, a signature issue in the election. Voters also give Mr. Biden higher marks on traits like leadership, empathy, honesty and morality.

Views on the Election Outcome

When asked “regardless of who you support, are you prepared to accept the outcome of the election as legitimate or are you not prepared to do that at this time?” only a bare majority, 53 percent of respondents, said they were prepared to accept the outcome as legitimate. Nearly 30 percent said they don’t know if they are prepared to accept the outcome. Given the Democratic advantage indicated by polling and presidential rhetoric about voter fraud, it is perhaps not surprising that more Democrats are prepared to accept the outcome than Republicans—61 percent of Democrats compared with 46 percent of Republicans. 

Voters are also concerned about the integrity of the balloting. In response to a question on election accuracy, only 61 percent of respondents say they are very or somewhat confident that votes will be counted accurately in the election. Results show wide partisan differences: 76 percent of Democrats versus 46 percent of Republicans are confident that votes will be counted accurately.  

The complete poll also included data on political participation, engagement and mobilization; the candidate’s ability to handle issues; and candidate traits.

About the GW Politics Poll

The GW Politics Poll is managed jointly by GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, Graduate School of Political Management and Department of Political Science. YouGov, a respected leader in online polling, conducted the academic, nonpartisan research poll for GW. The poll was fielded October 16 to 26, with a sample of 2500 registered voters and a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points for the full sample.

The GW Politics Poll is part of a strong tradition of public opinion research at GW, which includes the GW Battleground Poll, a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. The final edition of the GW Battleground Poll was released in March 2018.

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