Most swing-state voters give Trump poor marks on keeping Americans safe, CNBC/Change Research poll finds

Key Points
  • A majority of 2020 swing-state voters gave Trump negative reviews on his ability to keep communities safe, according to a new CNBC/Change Research poll. 
  • Still, most voters did not blame Trump directly for an increase in violence during his tenure. 
  • Most voters also said the president's response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Wisconsin, was harmful.
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he stands with local law enforcement and business people while examining property damage while visiting Kenosha in the aftermath of recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice and the ensuing violence after the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, September 1, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters

Most voters in six 2020 swing states give President Donald Trump poor marks on his ability to keep Americans safe and handle a crisis, as the president centers his reelection message around preventing violence, according to a new CNBC/Change Research poll.

In Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, 48% of likely voters said they approve of the job the president is doing on keeping communities safe, the survey findings released Thursday found. Another 52% said they disapprove. 

Further, asked if the phrase, "will keep us safe" describes Trump well, 48% agreed. Again, 52% answered that it does not represent the president well. 

Even so, a majority of voters stopped short of blaming Trump directly for increased violence in some American cities. Asked if, "at the end of the day, Donald Trump is responsible for the current violence in the country because he is president," 48% of voters agreed and 52% disagreed. 

The poll, taken Friday through Sunday, surveyed 4,143 likely voters across the six states and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points. It found Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden leading Trump by at least a narrow margin in all of the states surveyed.

The findings in the six states — all of which will shape the outcome of November's presidential election — come as Trump argues Americans should give him a second term in the White House to ensure their safety. He contends limited destruction of property that has accompanied protests against racial injustice, along with calls from some liberals to defund police departments, will jeopardize security in communities around the country. 

Flames engulf the Community Corrections Division building as an American flag flutters on a pole as protests turn to fires after a Black man, identified as Jacob Blake, was shot several times by police last night in Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S. August 24, 2020.
Stephen Maturen | Reuters

Facing Republican attacks on the issue, Biden has condemned rioting. The former vice president has also argued Trump has put American lives at risk, as an uptick in violent crime and nearly 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have taken place during the president's first term. 

Asked who would better handle a range of issues, a majority of respondents chose Biden and Democrats on all but two topics: recovering from a recession and getting people back to work. 

  • Handling the coronavirus: Biden/Democrats 52%, Trump/Republicans 48%
  • Recovering from a recession: Biden/Democrats 50%, Trump/Republicans 50%
  • Getting people back to work: Biden/Democrats 50%, Trump/Republicans 50%
  • Ensuring schools reopen safely: Biden/Democrats 52%, Trump/Republicans 48%
  • Police violence and discrimination: Biden/Democrats 52%, Trump/Republicans 48%
  • Bringing our country together in times of national crisis: Biden/Democrats 52%, Trump/Republicans 48%
  • Reducing tensions between protesters and counterprotesters: Biden/Democrats 53%, Trump/Republicans 47%

Trump also received poor marks for how he responded to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month. Across the six states, 52% of voters said the president's actions taken after police shot Blake and protests erupted in Wisconsin were harmful. Only 23% said Trump's response was helpful, while 25% said it made no difference. 

In Wisconsin itself, 54% of respondents called Trump's response harmful. Another 32% said it was helpful, and 14% answered that it made no difference. 

The poll also found that swing-state voters said they support both protesters and cops in their areas. More than half, 53%, of respondents said they have a favorable view of people protesting for criminal justice reform, while 34% said they have an unfavorable opinion. 

At the same time, 72% of voters said they have a positive view of their local police department, while 12% responded that they have a negative opinion. 

The positive opinions of police departments do not mean that voters would resist change. A majority, or 55%, of swing-state respondents said they agree that "we should invest more in education, mental health and social services and spend less on policing." 

That is what certain activists mean by defunding the police, as opposed to pulling all money from departments as constructed now, which other activists support. 

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