“Well, one of the things that will be really great,” Trump replied, “you know, the word ‘experience’ is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I’ve always said that. But the word ‘experience’ is a very important word. It’s an — a very important meaning.”
If this is Trump’s argument for a second term, he might want to go back to the drawing board. A striking new poll finds, even after 3½ years of the president serving in the role, Americans still overwhelmingly say he isn’t experienced enough for the job.
The USA Today-Suffolk University poll asked whether people thought Trump and Joe Biden had “the right experience to be president.” Just 37 percent said that was true of the incumbent, while an equally remarkable 67 percent said it was true of Biden.
Trump’s number on this question, as with many of his other personal image numbers, is similar to his overall approval rating. While 37 percent say he has the right experience, 61 percent say he doesn’t. The poll could be simply a function of people who don’t like Trump not believing he’s up to the task and responding accordingly. But it’s still notable that so few of his detractors see him as having the right experience to be president, even as he has so much experience as president.
And if you dig further into the numbers, you’ll see that even many who support Trump say he doesn’t have the right experience to be president. In a two-way matchup with Biden, Trump garners 41 percent to Biden’s 53 percent — the latest poll to show him with a double-digit deficit nationally. Among those who say they back Trump, though, only about 4 out of 5 (83 percent) say he has the right experience to be president, while 12 percent say he doesn’t. (Four percent are undecided.)
Independents also say overwhelmingly — 68 percent to 27 percent — that Trump doesn’t have the right experience.
Voters have no such qualms about Biden, though — quite the opposite. While two-thirds say the former vice president does have the right experience, just 28 percent say he doesn’t. Among his supporters, 96 percent say he has the right experience. Independents say 70 to 22 that he has the right experience, which is pretty much the inverse of Trump’s numbers. Even 31 percent of Trump supporters say Biden, who served alongside a president, has the right experience.
The utility of these numbers is debatable. After all, in 2016, we saw a somewhat similar gap between Trump and Hillary Clinton. A September 2016 McClatchy-Marist College poll asked which of them had the better experience to be president, and voters picked Clinton by a 57-to-30 margin. A Quinnipiac University poll in August of that year asked about each candidate individually, and while 71 percent said Clinton had the right experience, just 32 percent said the same of Trump. And of course, Trump wound up winning narrowly anyway.
What’s notable about the new numbers, though, is that Trump’s 3½ years as president don’t appear to have changed Americans’ belief that he isn’t up to the job. This is one measure on which a businessman and former reality-TV host would seem to have had room for growth. Trump hasn’t demonstrated that, in the minds of the voters.
In fact, though he has served nearly a full term as president, Americans view Trump’s relevant experience for the job at about the same level as they did Sarah Palin’s in 2008. Back when she was picked as the Republican vice-presidential nominee, Washington Post-ABC News polling showed that 47 percent thought the then-Alaska governor had the right experience to be president. That number dropped to 35 percent in the weeks after the GOP convention.
Trump’s chaotic presidency has long been reflected in his negative approval ratings, but some recent polls suggest that his coronavirus response, particularly, has pushed his numbers even lower.
And while Trump was able to win as the change candidate in 2016 despite reservations about his presidentiality, it seems possible this consideration might carry more weight after 3½ years in which Americans might have hoped Trump would grow into the presidency. Trump even pledged to grow into the job, saying in April 2016: “I will be so presidential. You will be so bored.”
The latter certainly isn’t true. And as these numbers reinforce, Americans say neither is the former.