Trump’s character problem

200302 The United States president Donald J. Trump at a Keep America Great rally on March 2, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Photo: Joel Marklund / BILDBYRÅN / kod JM / 88125 bbeng politics politik USA Donald Trump Keep America Great Rally president No Use Sweden. No Use Norway. No Use Austria.

The night before Super Tuesday, Joe Biden spoke fervently about the need to restore decency and dignity to the White House. To some, these words might have sounded like standard politician-speak. But a just-released Pew Research Center survey suggests that they could play an important role in the fall, perhaps even determining the outcome of the general election.

Pew finds that only 15% of Americans like the way Donald Trump conducts himself as president, while 51% dislike his conduct, and the remaining 31% express mixed feelings. Strikingly, only 31% of Republicans could bring themselves to say that they like the behavior of the man that most of them support despite, not because of, his departure from ordinary norms of conduct.

Americans have taken their measure of President Trump’s character, and they don’t like what they see. A total of 80% regard him as “self-centered,” and 59% as prejudiced. Only 36% of Americans see him as honest and 32% as morally upstanding.

Survey Question: Is President Trump ___?

All Americans (%) Democrats (%) Republicans (%)
Self-centered 80 87 73
Prejudiced 59 79 35
Honest 36 7 71
Morally upstanding 32 6 62
Source: Pew Research Center survey

From the beginning of his campaign, Biden has talked about reaching out to Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents. The Pew data suggest that he has a basis for doing this, because opinions within the Republican Party are divided along lines of age, education, ideology, and partisanship.

Among Republicans under age 30, approval and disapproval of President Trump’s conduct is almost evenly balanced. Among Republicans 65 and older, likes outweigh dislikes by a margin of 4 to 1. Republicans with college degrees or more education are more than twice as likely to express disapproval than are those with no more than a high school diploma. There are similar differences between moderates and conservatives, and between Republican identifiers and leaners.

Americans’ disapproval of President Trump’s personal conduct is deeply entrenched and unlikely to change between now and election day. Surveys in mid-2017 and 2018 yielded similar findings. The key question is how large they will loom in voters’ minds as they stride to the polling booth. A Democratic nominee who focuses on them and presents a credible contrast between his character and the president’s could strike political gold.