Over and over, convention speakers, including Trump, warned of an ominous dark cloud approaching: a Joe Biden presidency, in which the former vice president was both controlled by first-term members of Congress and subjugated to the whims of left-wing protesters. Over and over, scenes of carnage — all occurring recently, under Trump — were superimposed with warnings about what a President Biden would wreak.
This was simply the culmination of this line of attack for Trump. For weeks his campaign had been running ads with a similar message, and Trump, in his off-the-cuff remarks at various events, had been offering similar warnings. And in the first week after the Republican convention, we can now say with confidence that America has identified one of the major-party candidates as more capable of addressing crime and violence at protests.
America appears to prefer Joe Biden.
The most recent poll on the subject was published by ABC News on Friday. Conducted with Ipsos, it asked Americans who they thought would do a better job handling a number of issues, including reducing violence and keeping the country safe. Biden was preferred by double-digit margins, across the board.
Fox News released polls centered on three swing states this week that also did not show a significant advantage for Trump. Asked who would do a better job on “policing and criminal justice,” likely voters in Arizona and Wisconsin both preferred Biden by five percentage points. In North Carolina, the two candidates were essentially tied.
One point worth highlighting here: Biden was preferred on the issue in Wisconsin even after Trump repeatedly focused on unrest in the city of Kenosha. Even in a state with active protests and sporadic violence, Biden was seen as the more capable candidate.
A national poll from Quinnipiac University asked people a broader question: how safe they felt with Trump as president or how safe they expected to feel should Biden win. By a 15-point margin, Americans said that they felt less safe in a Trump presidency; in total, that was the view of fully half the country. Predictions of how people would feel under Biden were evenly split.
When specifically asked about how the candidates were responding to the protests, respondents preferred Biden by wider margins.
That ABC-Ipsos poll, for example, found that about half of respondents believed that Biden’s rhetoric wasn’t having much of an effect, while more than half said that Trump’s was making things worse. The percentage of people saying Trump’s rhetoric makes things worse was 42 points higher than those saying he was making things better.
A CNN-SSRS poll released Friday similarly found that more than half the country viewed Trump’s rhetoric as being more harmful than helpful — though the percentage of respondents who were critical of Trump’s response had fallen since June.
A poll conducted by YouGov earlier this week found that people were more confident that violence that has occasionally followed protests would improve if Biden won in November, while people thought it would get worse if Trump won.
An interesting aside from that CNN-SSRS poll is that the number of White Americans who view the protests as justified has fallen by 14 points since June, though it’s still higher than when the pollsters asked in October 2016. About a quarter of Whites say that even violent protests are justified, more than twice the percentage who held that view in 2016.
All of the post-convention polling on crime points in the same direction: Even after weeks of focus from Trump, he hasn’t gained an advantage on the issue over Biden. But it is certainly possible that this was only one intended outcome. It’s likely that Trump’s dark warnings about a Biden presidency were also focused at his own base, serving as a way to keep his likely voters engaged and committed to turning out.
With that in mind, it’s worth remembering the extent to which violence at protests has been a focus of coverage on Fox News and Fox Business. Since late May, when the protests first erupted, the Fox networks have been twice as likely as CNN and MSNBC to use terms centered on unrest that followed protests and nearly five times as likely to talk about “antifa,” a loose-knit left-wing group that engages in violent acts.
Fox News viewers expect Trump to talk about the violence that’s a focus of much of the network’s prime-time coverage, and Trump allies can certainly expect Fox News to reinforce Trump’s rhetoric.
As we said the week of the Republican convention, there was often little difference between what the network would have normally shown in prime time and what it was airing when it carried the Republican convention live. Which, unlike with the Democratic convention, it usually did.
It probably goes without saying that Republicans — a central part of the Fox audience — generally give Trump the advantage on the above questions. If the president’s goal was to branch out beyond that, it doesn’t seem to have worked.
In a previous version of this post, the figures from the ABC-Ipsos poll considering the effect of Biden's rhetoric were incorrect. The article has been updated with correct figures.