What Do Polls Say About the Issues on the Agenda for Tonight’s Debate?

On topics from climate change to leadership, most Americans say they prefer Joe Biden over President Trump.


By Giovanni Russonello

At the presidential debate on Thursday, President Trump may not be looking for an exact repeat of his performance last month, when voters widely panned his blunt-ended attacks on Joseph R. Biden Jr. at their first face-off.

And even if he wanted to reprise that steamroller style, it might be tough to pull off: The Commission on Presidential Debates announced this week that it had changed the ground rules, saying it will mute each candidate’s microphone for parts of the debate.

So maybe — just maybe — this debate will provide a more meaningful opportunity to hear where each candidate comes down on the issues. To that end, the commission also revealed this week which topics the event will focus on: the coronavirus, “American families,” race relations, climate change, national security and leadership.

Below is a look at where Americans stand on each subject, according to public opinion data.

Fighting Covid-19

Early in the spring, when the coronavirus shutdown had just begun, some voters expressed tentative support for Mr. Trump’s leadership on the pandemic, signaling a willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt. But as it became clear that he had no intention of mounting a national response to contain the virus, faith in his performance plummeted.

Today, the omnipresent issue of the 2020 campaign also happens to be one of Mr. Trump’s weakest suits. And with experts warning that the United States is entering a third surge in virus cases, the president is having a hard time turning the page. According to a New York Times/Siena College poll released this week, a majority of likely voters say they think the worst of the pandemic is still ahead.

Mr. Trump has railed against medical experts and generally refused to wear a mask, even though a vast majority of voters consistently say that they trust government scientists over the president. They also say that they would support a national mask-wearing mandate, something the president has refused to consider.

And while Mr. Trump has pinned his hopes on the swift approval of a coronavirus vaccine, polling suggests that many voters agree with Mr. Biden, who has accused the president of pushing too hard for a swift approval of any such drug. In a CNN poll this month, just one in five Americans expressed a high level of confidence that the current search for a vaccine was “properly balancing speed and safety.”

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