How Joe Biden and Donald Trump compare on key debate topics

Linley SandersData Journalist
Graeme BruceBusiness Data Journalist
Jamie BallardData Journalist
Hoang NguyenData Journalist
September 29, 2020, 10:00 AM UTC

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will meet for the first debate of the 2020 general election cycle this evening. The debate will be moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio.

The candidates are anticipated to discuss a series of six topics for around 15-minutes each ranging from their view on the economy to handling the COVID-19 pandemic and filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Here is what YouGov’s most recent data says about how Americans view each of the debate topics:

Filling the Supreme Court vacancy

A Yahoo News/YouGov Poll, conducted September 21 – 23, shows that Americans believe that whichever candidate wins the 2020 election should nominate the Supreme Court justice who will fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat (53%) rather than simply giving the nomination to the incumbent president (40%). 

A YouGov snap poll conducted after Trump announced Barrett as the nominee reveals that about half (49%) of registered voters believe that the Senate should not confirm Barrett before the results of the presidential election are known — but two-thirds (68%) think it will happen anyway.

Read more: 


Handling the COVID-19 pandemic 

With 200,000 Americans having lost their lives to coronavirus so far, most likely voters (57%) are uneasy about President Trump’s ability to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Economist/YouGov data published last week. Only around one-third (37%) are confident in the president’s ability to handle the crisis. Likely voters are divided on Joe Biden’s ability to manage the coronavirus response, with 45% confident but 43% uneasy. 

In the latest Yahoo News/YouGov Poll, a plurality of likely voters (46%) says that if Biden had been president instead of Trump, the current coronavirus situation would have been better. One-third of likely voters (33%) say that a Biden presidency would have made matters worse, while just 14% don’t think it would have made a difference.

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Fixing the economy

Economic confidence plummeted in March as the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to shut down and millions suddenly became unemployed. In the most recent Economist/YouGov survey, more than two in five Americans (43%) say the economy is getting worse. Less than a quarter of Americans (23%) think it is getting better.

Nearly a month away from the election, one in five likely voters (22%) say jobs and the economy is their top issue, placing it behind only health care (30%) as a main concern.

When asked about the future of the economy if President Trump is reelected, 37% say it will get better and 36% say it will get worse. One in six Americans (16%) say the economy will stay the same. When asked about how Biden might handle the economy, roughly a third believe it will get better (32%) and close to two in five (38%) say it will get worse if he is elected as president.

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Race and violence in our cities 

Supporters of each candidate are starkly divided when it comes to riots in American cities over police shootings of Black Americans.

In the most recent Yahoo News / YouGov Poll, most supporters of Joe Biden (59%) describe recent protests as mostly peaceful, while three-quarters (75%) of Donald Trump supporters view them as violent riots. About a quarter (27%) of Democrats see them as equally peaceful demonstrations and violent riots, whereas just 15% of Republicans see them that way. 

Most likely voters (57%) believe the protests have “gone too far”, including 94% of Trump supporters. Three in five (63%) Biden supporters, however, say that the recent protests have not gone too far.

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The integrity of the election 

Just 16% of likely voters have a great deal of confidence the 2020 election will be held fairly, the highest level of confidence respondents could express. Trump supporters are less half as likely as Biden supporters to feel this way (9% vs 19%). Most voters have “quite a bit” (20%) or a “moderate amount” (31%) of confidence in the integrity of the election, with a quarter (27%) having little to none whatsoever.

Concern over election integrity comes from what’s expected to be a wave of mail-in ballots, rather than in-person votes. Biden voters are significantly more likely than Trump supporters to vote by mail. 

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The Trump and Biden Records

The President enters the debates with voters more likely to approve than disapprove of him on only one part of his record: the economy. This of course is one of the most important areas for a president to be seen to be doing well, and 53% of likely voters approve of Donald Trump’s performance in his first term.

His second strongest area is on terrorism, but here those who disapprove of Trump’s record to date marginally outnumber those who approve by 49% to 47%.

His record is weakest when it comes to climate change (only 35% approve) and education (41%).

Joe Biden of course has no presidential record of his own to compare against. 

Other data from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll shows that likely voters are split on whether Trump is a strong (52%) or weak leader (48%). Voters are similarly split on Biden (50% vs 50%), with each candidate’s base bolstering the idea that they are strong leaders.

About half of likely voters see Biden as a trustworthy and honest person (48%), though about two in five (41%) do not. A majority of likely voters (57%) say Trump is not honest nor trustworthy and only about one-third (35%) say he is.

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

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

Yahoo News/YouGov Methodology: The Yahoo! News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,284 U.S. registered voters interviewed online between September 21-23, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. The margin of error for the sample was 4.1% 

Economist/YouGov Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between September 20 - 22, 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. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.6% for the overall sample.