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9 out of 10 voters say there are important differences between Biden and Trump. Here’s what they see as the biggest ones


By Ariel Edwards-Levy, CNN

(CNN) — If there’s one thing that American voters overwhelmingly agree on, it’s that this year’s presidential election presents a stark choice. In the latest CNN poll conducted by SSRS, 91% of registered voters say they see important differences between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, dwarfing even the 77% of voters who said last fall that there were significant divides between the Democratic and Republican parties. Even among the so-called “double haters” – those with unfavorable views of both Biden and Trump – only 20% say that the two candidates are pretty much the same.

To get a broader image of how voters view the stakes of the election, CNN asked voters to name the single most important difference they saw between the two candidates. As the results highlight, the contrasts that most stick in voters’ minds are often not about policy issues at all. While some voters mentioned the topics that often top voters’ lists this year when asked to pick their most important issues – the economy, immigration or a commitment to democracy – others were more focused on character and personal traits, with honesty, ability to handle the job and perceived motivations among the traits most mentioned as distinguishing factors.

Among those who saw significant differences between Biden and Trump, the most frequently mentioned distinctions were honesty and integrity (17%), ability to handle the job or mental fitness (15%), love for the country or patriotism (10%), perceived self-serving or egotistical motivations (10%) and effectiveness or performance in office (8%). Another 8% talked about protecting democracy or the Constitution, with 7% mentioning immigration and 6% the economy. Voters’ answers to the questions often spanned multiple topics, and a not insignificant share offered vaguer answers, with some simply noting that each candidate’s beliefs or policies were different.

Backers of each candidate offered significantly different characterizations of the race.  Voters who supported Biden in a head-to-head matchup against Trump often cast the distinction in terms of character. Among those who saw significant differences between the candidates, 31% mentioned honesty or integrity, with about 18% citing self-serving or egotistical motivations, typically on Trump’s part, and 15% noting Trump’s criminal conviction or the other charges currently facing the former president.

“Trump is a low down lying scoundrel who only cares about himself;  Biden, I think, really does care for the American people,” wrote one Biden supporter who responded to the poll, a South Carolina voter in her 70s.

Another Biden supporter, a Florida voter in her 20s, wrote, “One is a convicted felon. If I would never date a felon why would I vote one for president[?]”

Polling this year, including this survey, has consistently found concerns about democracy ranking high as an election issue for Biden supporters. Many also see support for democracy as the crucial defining factor between him and Trump: 16% of Biden supporters who see differences between the two candidates cited democracy and the Constitution as the most meaningful difference. Others raised concerns about fascism or said they saw Trump as uniquely dangerous to the country.

“Biden supports and defends our constitution, democracy and rule of law whereas Trump actively works to undermine and destroy our constitution, democracy and rule of law,” a Californian in his 70s wrote. “Trump wants to remove all checks on his power so that he will have unchecked absolute power to do whatever he wants to do to whomever he wants to do it.”

Trump’s supporters, by contrast, most frequently characterized the contrast between the two candidates as one of mental fitness, or ability to handle the job, topics mentioned by about 24% of those who saw important differences between Trump and Biden.

“Joe Biden is the first President in my lifetime who is mentally unfit to be our President,” wrote one Texan in his 70s who said he’s committed to supporting Trump this fall. “In my opinion he has no [idea] on what is going on in this country and is not capable of making a sound decision in regards to the best interest of the USA.”

Another 15% cited love for the country, patriotism or America First sentiments, with 11% mentioning effectiveness or performance in office.

“Trump saw that as people in this country of USA, needed help and he went out of his way to help,” wrote one Connecticut Trump supporter in her 30s. “I didn’t like Trump at first but once we got Joe, we have only suffered.”

Roughly 11% of Trump supporters who saw differences between the two candidates mentioned the economy or immigration, respectively. Both topics have reliably topped Trump supporters’ lists when asked to choose the election issues they find most important.

“Under [T]rump my gas and groceries were cheaper,” wrote one New York woman in her 20s. “Under Biden I can’t afford to live.”

Some voters described the contrast between Biden and Trump in terms that were less than flattering to either candidate.

“They are both awful but in very different ways,” wrote a New Mexican in his 30s who said he plans to support independent candidate Cornel West. “Biden needs to be forced into retirement and Trump needs to be put away in prison.”

Some voters were similarly disparaging even if they’d opted to support one of the main-party candidates.

“Biden is a senile, old, fool.  Trump is a lout, but has a clear mind,” responded one Virginia man in his 70s, who said he was supporting Trump largely as a means of opposing Biden.

And a Californian in his 20s who said he backed Biden mostly as an anti-Trump vote wrote, “One is a coherent liar, one is an incoherent truther.”

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