Anxiety a major factor in voters’ minds ahead of US presidential election

Anxiety a major factor in voters’ minds ahead of US presidential election
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Voters in the US admit anxiety rather than enthusiasm is motivating their engagement in this year’s presidential election, research suggests.

President Donald Trump is seeking a second term in the White House in November’s vote but is currently trailing challenger Joe Biden in most polls.

Murtice Sherek says she is not excited about Mr Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama, but admits she will do what she can to ensure the president’s defeat.

The Minnesota Democrat, a 79-year-old retired nurse, said: “I don’t really give a damn what I have to do.

“If I have to carry signs on the streets, if I have to carry my old friends to the polls, I’ll do it,” Ms Sherek said.

“This just can’t be. Trump is a sick man.”

Roughly three months before Election Day, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research finds that Mr Biden’s supporters are less enthusiastic than Mr Trump’s, both about the campaign itself and about their candidate, although the Democrat’s coalition may be equally motivated by anxiety.

Still, the poll reveals an American public at odds with Mr Trump on wearing masks, on balancing restrictions to stop the virus with efforts to help the economy and on fully reopening schools.

And voters give Mr Biden higher marks on many positive traits that apply to leadership in the age of the coronavirus, including honesty, capability and caring for Americans.

Ms Sherek’s assessment of the candidates highlights the nuanced motivations underlying the so-called enthusiasm gap, which has raised concerns among Mr Biden’s allies who worry the deficit could undermine his candidacy once voting begins.

While interest in the presidential campaign is high across the board, just 31% of Biden supporters say they are excited, compared with 42% of Trump supporters.

Mr Biden’s coalition is fuelled by more negative emotions: 72% of Biden supporters, but 52% of Trump supporters, say they feel anxious about the 2020 campaign.

The same disparity exists for frustration with the election, 65% for Biden supporters and 45% for Mr Trump’s.

President Donald Trump arrives at the White House (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Anya Kumar, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate from Columbia, Missouri, vowed to vote for Mr Biden this autumn but conceded many of her young friends who oppose Mr Trump do not feel much passion for the former vice president.

Many are not even registered, she said.

“For the most part, people I know really just don’t want Trump,” Ms Kumar said, acknowledging that she is motivated more by anxiety about Mr Trump’s reelection than genuine excitement about his Democratic rival.

“If Biden doesn’t win, that would suck.”

Mr Biden’s team largely dismisses the idea of an enthusiasm gap.

It says that with Mr Trump’s level of support shrinking, a greater share of energised supporters is left behind in the diminished pool.

Indeed, Mr Trump’s job approval in the new poll sits at 38%, within the narrow range that has endured throughout his presidency but down from relative highs earlier this year.

Just 32% of voters approve of the way Mr Trump is handling the pandemic, a low point that follows a steady decline from the outset of the crisis.

While Mr Trump’s supporters almost unanimously approve of his performance overall, two in 10 disapprove of his response to the pandemic.

Stacey Rogus, 43, a Republican from Glendale, Arizona, who works in the medical industry, admitted some concerns about Mr Trump.

She says the president is narcissistic, does not act as “presidential” as she would like and does not think before he speaks.

He (Donald Trump) didn’t make the virus

Stacey Rogus, Republican

But Ms Rogus is determined to vote for him a second time because of his economic policies and support for the US-Mexico border wall.

She also suspects that Mr Trump’s political opponents are exaggerating the threat of the coronavirus pandemic to hurt his reelection.

The worst president (Donald Trump) we've ever had, period

Terrance Berinato, Democrat

She finds the timing of the outbreak “a little odd”.

“He didn’t make the virus,” Ms Rogus said.

“If anything, maybe the Democrat Party created it just to make him look bad.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has ruled out the virus being human-made and noted that is the scientific consensus as well.

The poll also found that voters generally prefer Mr Biden’s character and values.

About six in 10 registered voters say that values like “cares about people like you,” “honest” and “strong leader” do not describe Mr Trump well.

By comparison, roughly the same majority say those characteristics describe Mr Biden at least somewhat well.

Democratic presumptive nominee and former vice president Joe Biden (Andrew Harnik/AP)

And in considering whether the two are “capable”, a question that likely reflects voters’ views of each man’s mental acuity and ability to govern, fewer say that describes Mr Trump than Biden at least somewhat well, 43% vs. 56%.

Mr Trump, who is 74, and his allies have made attacks against Mr Biden’s age and cognitive ability a centrepiece of their message.

Mr Trump has an advantage on standing up for what he believes.

Seventy percent think this describes Mr Trump at least somewhat well, including 54% who think it describes him very well.

Sixty-three percent think standing up for his beliefs describes Mr Biden at least somewhat well, but just 36% think it describes him very well.

Mr Trump’s supporters are much stronger in their positive descriptions of Mr Trump than Biden backers are of their candidate.

For example, wide majorities of Trump supporters think “stands up for what he believes” (87%), “strong leader” (75%) and “capable” (76%) describe the president very well.

Fewer Biden supporters think “standing up for what he believes” (63%), “strong leader” (50%) and “capable” (56%) describe Mr Biden very well.

For Mr Biden, a significant age gap within his coalition drives the lukewarm ratings.

Older Biden supporters are much more likely than those under 45 to say such traits describe Mr Biden very well.

Terrance Berinato, a 72-year-old Democrat from Front Royal, Virginia, who said he will definitely vote for Mr Biden and describes Mr Trump as “the worst president we’ve ever had, period”.

He acknowledged that Trump supporters may be more excited about their candidate, but he predicted it would not matter given that Mr Trump’s overall support is shrinking.

“I’m sure Trump supporters, the 30% or 40% of people who would follow him to hell, are very enthused,” Mr Berinato said.

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