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Poll: Climate Becomes Top Priority For Democrats; Trump Struggles On Race, COVID-19

President Trump, pictured in the Oval Office on Thursday, maintains a lead over Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on the economy, but is behind on handling of the coronavirus pandemic in a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
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President Trump, pictured in the Oval Office on Thursday, maintains a lead over Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on the economy, but is behind on handling of the coronavirus pandemic in a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Weighing the president down in his reelection bid is his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and race relations, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

More than half of Americans — 56% — disapprove of the job President Trump has done handling the pandemic.

By a 54%-to-40% margin, likely voters also say they prefer Biden over Trump to handle the coronavirus. On race relations, likely voters prefer Biden 56% to 38%; and even on crime, Biden edges Trump with likely voters, 49% to 45%.


The president continues, however, to have an advantage on the economy. Americans approve of the job he's doing on the economy, 49% to 45%, despite the millions of jobs lost during the pandemic.

And likely voters say they prefer Trump over Biden to handle the economy, 50% to 46%. That's partially why the president's campaign is focusing a new round of fall advertising on the economy.

Here's a breakdown of where American adults stand on key issues as voting season begins around the country, from the environment to the pandemic and election security, according to the poll:

Climate change takes over top spot for Democrats in issue priorities

On the issues, the parties have very different priorities.


Overall, the economy (21%) is seen as the No. 1 issue for likely voters, followed by the coronavirus (13%), climate change (12%), health care (8%) and race relations (7%).

But looking at the numbers by party shows the two sides living in very different universes.

For Democratic likely voters, amid wildfires in the West and hurricane season, climate change has taken over the top spot (22%), followed by the coronavirus (18%), health care (15%), the economy (10%) and race relations (9%).

Before the 2018 election, health care was the clear top issue for Democrats, followed by climate change and immigration.

For Republican likely voters, in this poll, it was the economy (35%) that was head-and-shoulders above any issue, followed by abortion (14%), crime and guns (both 7%), and the coronavirus and jobs (both 5%).

In a sharp reversal from 2018, just 2% of likely voters in this poll said immigration was the top issue. Just ahead of the 2018 election, as Trump called for a shutdown of the southern border, immigration was tied for second on the issue priority list behind the economy/jobs and health care.

For a quarter of Republicans, immigration was their top issue in 2018, second only to the economy/jobs. Now, just 4% of Republicans called it their top issue.

Number saying they'll get vaccinated plummets

Confidence in a potential vaccine has gotten worse.

Just 49% of Americans now say they will get vaccinated when one is made available; 44% say they won't. This is a big shift from last month when 60% said they would and 35% said they would not.

This comes from a 13-point decline in the number of independents saying they'll get vaccinated, from 61% to 48%, and a 10-point shift in Republicans, from 44% to 54%, saying they won't.

Trust in public health experts and local officials declines

Americans say public health experts and state and local governments are still their most trusted sources of information on the coronavirus, and just a third say they can trust what they hear from President Trump, but the president's messaging against some of these officials — in this election year — seems to have resonated with his base.

Trust in both public health experts and state and local officials has declined 15 points since March. And it's coming, again, from Republicans.

Overall, 69% of Americans said they have trust in public health experts, down from 84% in March and 75% in August. But consider just since last month, among Republicans that trust has dropped from 62% to 51%.

A majority (57%) of Americans said they trust what they're hearing from state and local governments, but that's down from 72% in March and 62% in August. Again, the shift is attributable to Republicans, who declined 8 points in the last month, from 51% to 43%.

Not rating much higher than President Trump in terms of trust on the pandemic is the news media at 38%.

Americans are pretty pessimistic that things will be back to normal any time soon — 69% think it's going to be six months or longer. For context, back in May, 65% said it would be at least six months, and that was four months ago.

A shift in views of the protests over racism and the Black Lives Matter movement

There has been a continued downward trend in support of the protests against police action as it relates to George Floyd in Minneapolis and Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

In June, 62% said the protests were mostly legitimate as opposed to mostly people acting unlawfully. But in August, that dropped to 53%, and now, Americans are split, 48% to 45%.

Registered Republicans are now firmly in the camp of saying the protesters are mostly acting unlawfully with 85% saying so, as opposed to 81% of Democrats and 53% of independents saying the protests are mostly legitimate.

There's also a racial, generational and educational divide.

Whites, by a 50%-to-45% margin, now say the protests are mostly people acting unlawfully, though there's a big divide among whites by education. Whites with a college degree side with protesters (61%) versus those whites without a college degree, who say the protesters are mostly acting unlawfully (60%).

Two-thirds of African Americans say they're mostly legitimate protests. Latinos, by a narrower 49%-to-40% margin, also say they are mostly legitimate.

There's a stark divide by age. Fifty-nine percent of Millennial and Gen Z voters (ages 18-39) say they think the protests are mostly legitimate, while slight majorities of every other age group disagree.

And while a majority of Americans overall (54%) still say they have a favorable impression of the Black Lives Matter movement, there's been an uptick in those saying they have an unfavorable one, going from 34% negative last month to 40% now.

There, the negative opinions mostly come from Republicans, 83% of whom say they have an unfavorable impression of the movement, compared to 89% of Democrats and 59% of independents, who say the opposite.

Whites are split at 47%, but the divide is stark again by education — 61% of whites with a college degree saying they have a favorable impression of BLM, while 56% of those without a college degree say they have a negative one (including 64% of white men without a college degree).

Among Black voters, 78% have a favorable impression, as do 66% of Latinos.

Here, again, there's a huge generational divide. Of Gen Z and Millennial voters, 68% have a favorable impression of the movement, 20 points higher than any other generation — Gen X, ages 40-55 (48%); Baby Boomers, ages 56-74 (46%); or Silent/Greatest, over 74 (45%).

Election security

Most Americans (53%) say the U.S. is either very prepared or prepared to keep November's election safe and secure.

By a 69%-to-20% margin, national adults are confident their state and local governments will run a fair election.

Americans are more split on whether the U.S. Postal Service will deliver election-related material in a timely manner — 52% express confidence, while 46% express doubt.

By a 51%-to-38% margin, Americans think President Trump is encouraging election interference as opposed to making it safer.

By a 50%-to-37% margin, likely voters trust that the election results will be accurate — even if their candidate loses. And, perhaps surprisingly, there is little difference by party on this question.

About a third (35%) of likely voters say they plan to vote by mail or absentee. Almost half (48%) say they will vote in person.

There's a big split by party on this — two-thirds of likely Trump voters say they will vote in person, while just over a third (35%) of Biden backers say so.

Almost half of Biden supporters (46%) say they plan to vote by mail.

So when interpreting election results, understand that Trump is set to dominate voting happening on Election Day, but that doesn't take into consideration votes by mail and early voting, which draw a substantial portion of the voting population.


The poll, conducted from Sept. 11 through 16, surveyed 1,152 adults by cell phone and landline for a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points. There were 964 registered voters in the poll for a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points and 723 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points.

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