“Today, we saw Joe Biden continue to politicize a pandemic and to show his appalling lack of respect for the American people. That’s what it is,” he said. “At every turn, Biden has been wrong about the virus, ignoring the scientific evidence and putting left-wing politics before facts and evidence.”
Trump’s specific point of frustration was that Biden had called for governors to implement mask mandates across all 50 states, something that Trump misrepresented as Biden saying that he, as president, would mandate universal mask-wearing. In fact, Biden’s position is to some extent similar to Trump’s, with the central exception that Biden wants governors to implement mandates while Trump wants people to heed what their governors mandate.
Claims that Biden is exclusively playing politics with the pandemic or, even less believably, the one ignoring scientific recommendations can be taken for what they’re worth. What’s remarkable about Trump’s assertions, really, is that he seems to still be misreading the politics of the pandemic, to his detriment.
The Post and our partners at ABC News in July asked Americans which of the presidential candidates they viewed as better able to handle the pandemic. Most said Biden, including a majority of independents and majorities of two voting groups viewed as central to the election’s outcome: suburban women and white men without college degrees.
Importantly, while Republicans express more confidence in Trump, they do so by a much narrower margin than Democrats express confidence in Biden. More than 1-in-10 Republicans say that they have more confidence in Biden on the issue.
A Fox News poll released Thursday found a similar split. A majority sees Biden as better able to handle the pandemic, with Democrats expressing more confidence in their candidate than Republicans did in theirs. One difference: White men without degrees give Trump a narrow advantage in the Fox poll.
Asked about specific policy approaches to containing the virus, respondents in the Fox poll were much more likely to take Biden’s position than Trump’s. Nearly three-quarters of Americans — including most Trump supporters! — back mandates for wearing masks when leaving home. A smaller overall majority supports allowing citizens to vote by mail in November.
For several months, Trump has tried to focus his campaign less on the pandemic, which he has repeatedly insisted is fading, and, instead, on surges in crime and violence in major cities. Most Americans did express concern about crime and violence in the Fox News poll but, across the board, they expressed more concern about the virus.
Notice how politics overlaps with those questions. Concern about crime was even, regardless of party or political position; the difference between Democrats and Republicans on the issue was 4 points. On the coronavirus, though — which, again, Trump has actively sought to downplay — the partisan gap was 20 points.
Perhaps the most interesting finding from the Fox News poll was that Americans broadly see this as a moment in which they expect the government to step up to help them. Asked to choose which message they’d send to the government, “lend me a hand” or “leave me alone,” most picked the former. Independents and Republicans were about evenly split.
Compare that with the results of the same question when Fox posed it in February 2019. Then, Republicans were 63 points more likely to say “leave me alone.” Americans overall were 21 points more likely to make the same choice.
Since then, the overall margin has flipped by 42 percentage points. The margin among Republicans narrowed by 60.
In other words, Americans support specific proposals aimed at immediate containment (masks), efforts to address concern about how the virus will affect the election (mail-in ballots) and believe that the government should step up to assist. Trump is leaving mask mandates to governors, opposing mail-in voting and specifically limiting the federal government’s role in addressing the pandemic — as his campaign focuses instead on crime.
In the Fox News poll, he trails Biden by 7 points nationally.