Washington, political pundits and the media seem to be constantly in the throes of one Trump-dominated news cycle or another. The focus on the president is so sharp from those types that it’s hard to gauge how much average voters are following the news and just which stories they are focusing on.
Deciphering that is important, though: What voters were focused on seemed to have major consequences in 2016, when Gallup found the word “email” dominated what people said they heard about Hillary Clinton during the campaign. “Indeed, the second-, third- and fourth-most-frequently used words associated with Clinton also relate to emails: “FBI,” “investigation” and “scandal,” wrote Gallup’s Frank Newport and Andrew Dugan.
A newly released SurveyMonkey poll finds that while Trump is not on the ballot this year, Americans are consuming a remarkable amount of news about him in the final month of the midterm campaigns. The survey from Oct. 10 to 15 asked how much they saw, read or heard about Trump in the previous week: 65 percent said they heard “a lot” about Trump, while 21 percent said “a little” and merely 13 percent said “not much.” That week was not a fluke, as a similar 68 percent heard “a lot” about Trump in a similar survey in late August.
The survey also asked respondents to specify what exactly they saw or heard about Trump. Perhaps surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans largely mentioned similar words when describing what they saw about Trump. Roughly 3 in 10 Democrats and Republicans who heard about Trump mentioned Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, while Trump’s rallies and speeches were noted by 12 percent of Democrats and Republicans alike.
Democrats were more likely to mention Kanye West, “lies,” “mocking” and Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford when asked what they heard about Trump, while Republicans were more likely to say they heard about the “economy” and “media.”
Attention to Trump was far higher among those who have strongly positive or negative views of him than those who are less passionate. Nearly 8 in 10 of those who “strongly approve” of Trump’s job performance heard a lot about the president (78 percent), as did 69 percent of people who “strongly disapprove” of him. Attention dropped to 50 percent of those who “somewhat disapprove,” and 47 percent of those who “somewhat approve” heard a lot about Trump in the previous week.
Broken down by party, 72 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 70 percent of Democratic-leaning adults heard a lot about Trump in the week before Oct. 10-15. That dropped to 44 percent among independents who say they don’t lean toward either party.
What people are hearing about Trump
Just after his confirmation to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh was far and away the most common topic Americans mentioned when asked what they heard about Trump. He was cited by 29 percent of Americans who heard about Trump overall. This makes broad sense, given widespread coverage of the Kavanaugh nomination debate as well as Trump’s comments praising the newest justice and criticizing Ford, whose allegation that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while the two were teenagers dominated the final weeks of his confirmation process.
In addition to naming Kavanaugh himself, 4 percent of those hearing about Trump mentioned Ford specifically, while 3 percent apiece mentioned sexual assault and the word “mocking,” in which most respondents referred to Trump’s mocking of Ford’s recollection of the incident. Democrats were particularly likely to say they heard about these three specific issues in relation to Trump.
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Trump’s speeches at campaign rallies were the second-most-common topic Americans heard about him, mentioned by 12 percent including similar shares across party lines. Third was West, who met Trump at the White House on Oct. 11, in the middle of the survey period. Democrats and independents were at least twice as likely to mention hearing about West.
Strikingly, just 3 percent of people who heard about Trump mentioned hearing the “economy” during the week of Oct. 10-15, despite the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on Oct. 5 showing the unemployment rate declined to a nearly 50-year low of 3.7 percent. The poll found 6 percent of Republicans who heard about Trump mentioned the economy, compared with 2 percent of independents. No Democrats mentioned the economy.
Republicans and independents were also relatively likely to mention the media when asked what they heard about Trump in the past week, 4 percent compared with 3 percent of independents and 1 percent of Democrats.
Democrats still say Trump is bigger factor in vote than Republicans
Polls have consistently shown a strong correlation between voters’ approval of Trump and whether they support Democrats or Republicans for Congress. But while SurveyMonkey polling shows similar shares of partisans paying a lot of attention to the president, it also finds Democrats are more likely to mention Trump explicitly as a reason for their vote.
A SurveyMonkey survey from Oct. 17 to 19 finds 17 percent of voters who support Democrats for Congress mentioning Trump when asked to explain their vote choice, compared with 5 percent of those who support Republicans. Both figures are down somewhat from late August, when Trump was mentioned by 21 percent of voters supporting Democrats and 9 percent of those who support Republicans.
Democrats’ greater stated focus on Trump as a motivation in their congressional vote is roughly in line with a Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month, which found 41 percent of Democratic registered voters saying it is “extremely important” that a candidate share their views on Trump, compared with 31 percent of Republicans who said this.
Voters backing Republican candidates became much more likely to say Democrats were a reason for their vote following the Kavanaugh nomination debate than before, 41 percent early this month compared with 28 percent in August. That figure dipped to 36 percent in more recent data, now matching the share of Democrats who mention Republicans as a reason for their vote. Partisans continue to be far less likely to mention their own party as a reason for their vote — just 17 percent of Democrats do so, as do 16 percent of Republicans.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.
The poll asking what people heard about Trump in the past week was based on interviews with 3,514 U.S. adults Oct. 10-15, and included 2,465 responses to the question asking why voters supported a party’s candidate for Congress. The poll was conducted by SurveyMonkey among a sample of the millions of people who take an unrelated user-generated survey on the firm’s platform, a non-probability sampling method of all U.S. registered voters. Analysis of open-ended survey responses used unweighted data. See here for more on SurveyMonkey’s methodology. The Oct. 17-19 survey gauging reasons for congressional vote preferences was conducted among 2,117 adults, including 1,121 responses to the question asking “why” respondents support Democrats or Republicans for Congress.
The poll and analysis above are part of a collaboration between SurveyMonkey, The Washington Post and researchers at the University of Michigan and Georgetown University. Data collection and analysis were managed by Mark Blumenthal and Sarah Cho of SurveyMonkey, with design and analysis by Josh Pasek, Stuart Soroka and Michael Traugott from the University of Michigan and Jonathan Ladd of Georgetown.
In the past week, how much did you see, read or hear about Donald Trump? A lot/A little/Not much. (IF A LOT/A LITTLE, ASK) What specifically have you seen, read or heard about Donald Trump in the past week? (Open-ended)
If the election for the U.S. House of Representatives were held today, would you vote ...? Options: Definitely for the Democrat, Probably for the Democrat, Leaning Democrat, Leaning Republican, Probably for the Republican, Definitely for the Republican, Would not vote.