How Americans view sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden and Donald Trump

May 06, 2020, 4:15 PM GMT+0

In November, voters may be left to choose between two party-backed candidates who have each been accused of sexual assault.

Most Americans (79%) have heard about recent sexual assault allegations against former Vice President and presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. A former Senate aide, Tara Reade, says that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. Biden has denied that the misconduct happened. Even more Americans (86%) have heard about sexual harassment or sexual assault accusations made against President Donald Trump by a number of women. Trump has denied these claims.

But the latest Economist/YouGov survey finds a partisan split on which accusations are seen as credible. Three in 10 Americans (31%) and a majority of Republicans (55%) say the recent allegations against Biden are credible. About one-third of Americans (34%) say they haven’t heard enough. At this point, just 14 percent of Democrats say the recent allegations against Biden are credible. A slight plurality (38%) say they are not credible, and 36 percent say they haven't heard enough to say.

About two in five Americans (41%) and a majority of Democrats (70%) describe the allegations against Trump as credible. About a quarter (23%) of the public hasn’t heard enough to say, and about one in 10 individuals are not sure (13%). About half of Republicans (49%) say that the allegations against Trump are not credible.

Republicans are more likely to absolve Trump even if allegations are proven. One-third of Republicans (32%) say it would not be relevant to the election. About the same number (34%) of Republicans say that evidence would be relevant to the election, but would not disqualify Trump from the presidency. Just one in five (19%) Democrats say the allegations against Biden are not relevant to the election. If proof of sexual assault emerges, Democrats are split on whether it would disqualify Biden for the presidency (30%) or not (30%).

How Sanders supporters are reacting to the allegations

Women who supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are more likely than male supporters to say they now are voting for Biden. Four in five (82%) female Sanders voters, but just three-quarters (73%) of male Sanders voters say they will vote for Biden. But the allegations of sexual assault against Biden appear to resonate most strongly with those who supported Sanders.

Half of Sanders' supporters report that the allegations, if proven, are disqualifying. But even more of them (68%) believe the allegations of sexual assault made by more than a dozen women against Trump, if proven, are also disqualifying.

The problem Biden has is getting a firm commitment from Democratic voters who hoped for a Sanders nomination (and who may still hope for that). That isn’t a new issue: it also was seen in last week’s Economist/YouGov Poll. This week, although 78 percent of Sanders voters say they will vote for Biden (5% will vote for Trump), 17 percent — nearly one in five — aren’t sure, or will vote for a third-party candidate or won’t vote at all.

Women give Biden his lead over Trump

Female support is the reason Biden leads Trump in the current head-to-head match-up among registered voters. The gender differences in support are sizable: as of today, if the election were only among men, Trump would have a narrow lead, and if it were only among women, there would be a Biden landslide.

Much of that gender difference is because gender differences in party identification exist, but among those who don’t identify with either party, men give Trump a 15-point lead over Biden, while Independent women give Biden a five-point edge.

However, when Biden voters are asked whom they expect to win, more than a quarter say they don’t know, and a few now expect a loss for the Democrat. Nearly all the president’s supporters expect him to be re-elected. Many voters—even those who say they will vote for Biden—dubious about his ability to win in November.

Several reasons stand out: continued approval of Trump’s handling of the economy, even as a majority see the country in recession; the slowness of many of those who supported Sanders to commit to Biden; and (most recently) the charge of sexual assault made by a former Biden staffer, though as of now women’s support gives him his lead. Not to mention that most presidents running for re-election usually win (and the last time Trump won he was able to do so without securing the popular vote).

Trump’s political edge remains the economy

The president’s biggest advantage in this election is the belief that he can handle the economy. A majority of the country approves of how he is handling that issue. He fares worse when it comes to handling the coronavirus. Still, his overall rating this week is among the best of his presidency, with the same percentage of the country approving as disapproving.

The economy and health care are described as “very important” issues to seven in 10 Americans. For Republicans, the economy ranks first when people are asked to name their “most important issue.” Democrats choose health care. For Republicans, health care and immigration rank second and third, respectively. Democrats put the economy second, but climate change and the environment is third.

A pair of questions about how each man would handle an economic recession (one that 53% believe the country is currently in) also shows the president’s current advantage on this concern. Americans are evenly divided (43% to 43%) on whether they are confident or uneasy about Trump’s ability to handle an economic recession; as for Biden, just 33 percent are confident about his ability to handle a recession, while 44 percent are uneasy.

See the full toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll

Image: Getty