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Americans View Biden as Likable, Honest; Trump, as Strong

Americans View Biden as Likable, Honest; Trump, as Strong

Story Highlights

  • 66% say Biden likable, 36% say Trump is
  • Biden also more likely to be viewed as honest, caring
  • Trump has edge on strong and decisive leadership

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Among eight character dimensions, Americans' perceptions of President Donald Trump and Joe Biden differ most on likability: 66% of U.S. adults believe Biden is likable, while 36% say Trump is. Americans are also more likely to perceive Biden than Trump as being honest and trustworthy and as caring about the needs of people like them. Trump surpasses Biden only when it comes to being a strong and decisive leader.

Bar graphs. Americans are more likely to say Joe Biden than Donald Trump is likable, is honest and trustworthy, and cares about the needs of people like you. More Americans say Donald Trump than Joe Biden in a strong and decisive leader. The candidates are rated about equally as to whether they display good judgment in a crisis, can manage the government effectively, keep their promises and can bring about changes this country needs.

The results are based on a Sept. 14-28 Gallup poll, conducted before the candidates' first presidential debate and Trump's recent hospitalization after being infected by the coronavirus. It is the first time Gallup has measured Biden's character profile. In addition to being likable, honest and caring, a slim majority also thinks the former vice president can manage the government effectively. Slightly fewer than half think the four other character traits describe Biden, including 46% saying he keeps his promises and is a strong and decisive leader, his lowest ratings.

Trump registers majority agreement on only the strong and decisive leadership dimension. Americans are evenly divided on whether he can manage the government effectively (48% say he can; 52% say he cannot) and bring about changes the country needs (47% vs. 53%).

Gallup has measured perceptions of Trump's personal qualities periodically throughout his presidency, and his ratings have for the most part varied little since he became president. This includes his likability rating, which was 37% when Gallup asked about it previously in June 2018.

As with likability, honesty has always been a weakness for Trump, with typically fewer than 40% saying he is honest and trustworthy, although more do so now than during the 2016 campaign (33%).

The biggest change in Trump's character ratings as president is in keeping his promises, which tumbled from 62% to 45% after the Republican Party failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act on its first attempt in March 2017. Since then, his ratings on this dimension have ranged between 44% and 47%.

Slightly fewer now (47%) than when he was inaugurated (53%) say Trump can bring about changes the country needs.

Leadership has always been a relative strength for Trump. The 56% who currently say he is a strong and decisive leader is similar to what it was in the fall of 2016 (57%), when he was campaigning for president, and the 59% measured after he was inaugurated. It has been closer to 50% for most of his presidency before recovering somewhat in the latest poll.

Trump's current rating on being able to manage the government effectively is his best to date, surpassing the 44% measured shortly after his inauguration.

Four in 10 Republicans Say Biden Is Likable

As would be expected, Republicans believe each of the eight positive characteristics applies to Trump but not Biden, while Democrats believe each quality applies to Biden but not Trump. Generally speaking, no less than 80% of partisans believe a character trait applies to their own party's candidate, and no more than 20% believe the trait applies to the other party's candidate.

There is one exception to this pattern in Republicans' ratings of the two candidates on the likability dimension -- 68% of Republicans believe Trump is likable, and 40% say the same about Biden.

More independents believe Biden than believe Trump possesses each of the character traits except for being a strong and decisive leader, something 55% of independents say applies to Trump and 45% to Biden.

Ratings of Presidential Candidate Characteristics, by Political Party
Republicans Independents Democrats
Trump Biden Trump Biden Trump Biden
Is likable 68 40 32 66 12 90
Is honest and trustworthy 83 16 31 54 9 86
Cares about the needs of people like you 91 17 38 55 10 92
Displays good judgment in a crisis 87 10 37 50 12 85
Can manage the government effectively 93 8 43 53 10 94
Keeps his promises 91 5 37 48 7 88
Can bring about changes this country needs 93 3 41 48 7 93
Is a strong and decisive leader 93 6 55 45 18 86
Gallup SepT. 14-28, 2020

Bottom Line

If Trump wins a second term, he will do so in spite of some character concerns held by the American public. No more than four in 10 consider the president likable or honest. Trump did win the 2016 election when concerns about his honesty were just as prevalent, likely because Americans did not regard his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as being honest. But that situation does not apply this year, with Americans giving Biden a significant edge for being honest and an even wider one for being likable.

Trump does have an advantage over Biden when it comes to being seen as a strong and decisive leader. That may reflect his unwavering positions on issues such as immigration, trade, deregulation, and law and order.

While the personal images of the candidates will matter, the election will not come down to character alone, with policy issues, the state of the nation and Trump's performance in office also helping to decide the outcome.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

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