When it comes to Trump and Biden, honesty can mean different things

August 10, 2020, 7:00 PM UTC

Joe Biden has advantages over Donald Trump on leadership qualities that voters rank most highly, such as honesty, competence and taking responsibility, according to YouGov’s analysis of the latest polling conducted for Yahoo News. Perceptions of honesty are a key advantage for Biden, as his supporters see him as honest, and Biden’s supporters say they value honesty in a president more than Trump supporters. 

For Trump’s supporters, questions about honesty present something of a paradox: While four out of five Trump supporters (82%) identify honesty as a very important leadership quality in a president, fewer (66%) select honesty as a quality that Trump possesses.

Why the discrepancy? Much of the difference owes to a question format that asked voters to select leadership qualities that apply to each candidate from a list. On a follow-up question that asked specifically about honesty, a larger number of Trump supporters (78%) described their candidate as “honest and trustworthy” rather than not (6%). At the very least, the lower honesty number (66%) on the check-all-that-apply question shows that this quality is lower on the list of those that Trump supporters say the president possesses. 

On the flip side, Biden supporters are nearly unanimous (97%) in saying Trump is not honest and trustworthy. Part of Biden’s advantage on honesty comes from the dishonesty that his supporters perceive in the president. 
Whatever qualms some Trump supporters may have about his honesty, they are more convinced of the sincerity of his beliefs. That is, a larger number of Trump supporters think Trump says what he believes (88%) rather than what he thinks other people want to hear (8%). On this question, even 28 percent of Biden supporters, nearly all of whom consider Trump dishonest, concedes that Trump says what he believes. 

Finally, on a related trait, nearly all Trump supporters (96%) agree that he “says what other politicians are afraid to say” (only 2% disagree). Or put another way, they do not see him as a typical politician. This perception has always been a big part of Trump’s appeal to his base. 

For Biden, the perceptions are flipped. More of his supporters describe him as “honest and trustworthy” (80%) than someone who “says what he believes” (74%). And less than half of Biden’s supporters (41%) agree that he “says what other politicians are afraid to say,” while 29 percent disagree. 
Thus, among all registered voters, Biden has a net advantage on perceptions of honesty (42% describe him as honest and trustworthy vs. 34% who say the same for Trump), but a disadvantage on saying what he believes (39% vs. 53%) and what other politicians are afraid to say (25% vs. 62%).

Leadership qualities like honesty and sincerity are just one facet of how the candidates are perceived. Biden leads Trump by nine points (49% to 40%) on the most recent Yahoo News survey, and in addition to his edge on honesty, Biden’s lead may also owe to his advantages on other leadership traits like competence and taking responsibility.

Perhaps more important, Biden is perceived as able to do a better job on the coronavirus pandemic and race relations – two issues that have dominated the news in recent months.

See the full toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Yahoo News/YouGov poll 

Methodology
: The Yahoo! News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,506 US adult residents interviewed online between July 28-30, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. The margin of error for the entire sample is ±3.3%.