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Steven V. Roberts: It comes down to trust
Guest Commentary

Steven V. Roberts: It comes down to trust

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The presidential election could be decided by one word: Trust. Who do voters trust to tell them the truth? To keep their families safe? To handle the next crisis?

President Trump's base remains solid, but they make up only about 40% of the electorate. Trump is in trouble because he is losing support among three groups outside that base: voters who reluctantly backed him in 2016 but have now defected; those who chose third-party candidates; and non-voters who sat the race out.

The shift away from Trump is not caused by some groundswell of excitement for Joe Biden. But at this moment in history, the Democrat presents a stark contrast to the president. He's calm, where Trump is chaotic; even, where Trump is erratic; decent, where Trump is dangerous. And those differences are particularly appealing to women voters who back Biden by huge margins: 23% nationally and 28% in the suburbs, according to the ABC/Post survey.

Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who flipped a Republican district outside Detroit two years ago, told the Post: "For my district, there is a real interest in just getting to some stability, some practicality. Highlighting the comfort that Joe Biden provides with the stability, I think, is important, especially for suburban Republican women who can't stand Trump but are worried that Joe Biden may be bad for their pocketbooks."

Trust has always been a huge problem for Trump. Exit polls show that 64% of voters did not consider him "honest and trustworthy" four years ago. Almost 1 in 3 of those doubters voted for him anyway, but over the course of his presidency, their fears about Trump have solidified. The ABC/Post poll reports that about 9% of Republicans now say they will vote for Biden.

The New York Times surveyed voters in six battleground states and concluded, "People who have switched sides since 2016 make up less than 4% of registered voters. But they effectively pack twice the punch of other voters, as they have both deducted a vote from their former preferred candidate and added one to the candidate they now support. Alone, those switches would be enough to give Mr. Biden a fairly comfortable victory."

Interviews with those switchers help explain their motives. For most of them, it's all about personality, not policy, and about anxieties, not issues. Elizabeth Hall, a retired lawyer in Mount Kisco, New York, told the BBC that she now thinks voting for Trump was "the biggest mistake of my life." The president's mishandling of the coronavirus shoved her over the edge: "Every day Trump had a COVID meeting, and every day he was ignoring the facts and pushing them away."

Shawna Jensen, a high school librarian in Fort Worth, Texas, and lifelong Republican, is also abandoning her party. "I'm not voting for Trump this year," she told the AP. "I can't vote for someone who is that ugly to other people ... For me, (Biden) is the safest of the two candidates. And he doesn't make fun of people."

Gerri Arndt of Davison, Michigan, switched from the Democrats to Trump in 2016 and is now switching back. She explained why to NBC: "His temper tantrums, him doing things to get even with people, and not (being) willing to listen to anybody." As for Biden, she added, "I think he'll listen. Trump never listened."

Voters who sat out 2016 are breaking for Biden by 14 points in the six battleground states, the Times reports. One of them is Angelette Moore, a retired autoworker from Flint, Michigan, who thought her vote "wasn't going to matter" last time. This time around, she has already voted by mail.

The Times found that voters who shunned the two main parties in 2016 are now backing Biden by 34 points. Ruth Mierzwa, owner of a small business near Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson last time. Now, she told the Post, "Trump is just so scary at this point that I don't think I can waste my vote on a third party. It just keeps getting worse. From his pick for the Supreme Court, to his racist comments, to his degrading anyone who doesn't agree with him, to his handling of the virus. I can go on and on."

If you lose the trust of the voters, you have little left. And that is what's happening to Trump.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.

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