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Maddening New Poll: Voters Are Unaware of Trump “Dictator” Threats

A small percentage of voters surveyed are familiar with Trump’s most overt authoritarian outbursts. That’s frightening. But it’s also an opportunity.

Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Mesa, Arizona.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Mesa, Arizona.

President Biden’s brain trust appears confident that he will ultimately prevail over Donald Trump due to the threat Trump poses to our constitutional system. By November, the election’s “focus will become overwhelmingly on democracy,” one top Biden adviser told The New Yorker, adding that “the biggest images in people’s minds are going to be of January 6th.”

If so, the Biden campaign had better get cracking.

Some new polling from a top Democratic pollster finds mixed news for Team Biden on this front: Large swaths of voters appear to have little awareness of some of Trump’s clearest statements of hostility to democracy and intent to impose authoritarian rule in a second term, from his vow to be “dictator for one day” to his vague threat to enact “termination” of provisions in the Constitution.

That’s maddening for obvious reasons. But it also presents the Biden campaign with an opportunity. If voters are unaware of all these statements, there’s plenty of time to make voters aware of them—and the polling also finds that these statements, when aired to respondents, shift them against Trump.

The survey—which was conducted by veteran Democratic pollster Geoff Garin for the group Save My Country and shared with The New Republic—did something novel. It polled 400 voters in each of three swing states—Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—and weighted them in proportion with each state’s Electoral College votes. It omitted respondents who voted for Trump in 2020 and also said Biden didn’t legitimately win.

In short, the poll was designed to survey voters who are genuinely gettable for Biden. The poll asked them about 10 of Trump’s most authoritarian statements, including: the two mentioned above, Trump’s claim that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” his vow to pardon rioters who attacked the Capitol, his promise to prosecute the Biden family without cause, his threat to inflict mass persecution on the “vermin” opposition, and a few more.

Result? “Only 31 percent of respondents said they previously had heard a lot about these statements by Trump,” the memo accompanying the poll concluded.

The good news for Biden is that when respondents were presented with these quotes, it prompted a rise in Trump’s negatives. For instance, after hearing them, the percentage who see him as “out for revenge” jumped by five points, the percentage who see him as “dangerous” rose by nine points, and the percentage who see him as a “dictator” climbed by seven points.

“This is an opportunity to move voters and change the race,” Garin told me, noting that this shows that current public polling, which has Biden down to Trump, is “not set in concrete.”

If this Democratic polling is right, it might help explain a dynamic that has perplexed observers. The latest New York Times poll finds Biden trailing Trump by five points among registered voters even as 53 percent think he committed serious crimes.

Yet voters may still see Trump’s (alleged) criminality as a theoretical proposition, without connecting it to the type of unbound, lawless presidency he has told us he’d preside over—in his own words.

Indeed, the poll from Save My Country finds that after voters are presented with these statements, the percentage of those who view Trump unfavorably jumps five points, from 53 percent to 58 percent, and 69 percent say Trump will bring “chaos to the presidency and our country.”

In other words, when voters are presented with evidence straight from Trump’s own mouth, they see an authoritarian second term as very plausible.

In one sense, the lack of voter awareness of Trump’s “dictator” threats shows that the Biden campaign and Democrats don’t appear to have succeeded in making voters aware of the menace Trump poses. Perhaps their messaging has yet to work, or maybe the party has not seriously used the levers of power at its disposal to highlight Trump’s staggering corruption and malice.

But if this polling is right, one explanation that doesn’t seem as plausible is that voters don’t care about these matters. In fact, all this might in some ways validate one of the Biden camp’s frequent claims—that voters are so checked out that they aren’t seriously aware of the threat a second Trump term poses.

The new polling also counters a well-worn refrain from skittish, nonconfrontational Democrats. They sometimes say Trump’s negatives are so well knownor “baked in,” as campaign jargon puts itthat there’s no sense in spending much time on his authoritarian outbursts, affection for political violence, and wide array of (alleged) crimes. Yet all this may in an important sense constitute new information for untold numbers of voters.

“Trump’s negatives are not baked into the cake at all,” Garin told me. Fortunately for the Biden camp, between now and Election Day there are some eight months to fire up the campaign crucible and ensure that they do get baked in—good and hard.