President Donald Trump is struggling on the most important non-economic issues of the day.
His disapproval rating on both the coronavirus and race relations are in the 30s, and his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, is trusted more on both of these issues by double-digits.
These deficits could be why Trump seems to want to turn this election into one focused on law and order.
A look at the polls reveals, however, that Trump will likely lose if he continues to double down on this electoral strategy.
Successful campaigns tend to be ones that listen to what voters want instead of telling them what they want. Law and order is not on the voters’ minds at this moment.
View 2020 presidential election polling
The coronavirus is the top non-economic issue of the day. At least 20% of Americans have said it’s the nation’s most important problem in three consecutive months of Gallup polling. That’s very rare for a non-economic issue. A recent Quinnipiac University poll confirms it’s the top non-economic issue in determining voter choice for the election.
Finally, concern about the coronavirus is only climbing. The percentage of Americans who are extremely or very concerned about coronavirus dipped in June, but that percentage rebounded to 60% in Axios/Ipsos July polling.
Even if the coronavirus went away magically, it’s not clear at all Trump would win the messaging war.
A June poll from the Washington Post/Schar School matched up law and order and race relations. Specifically, the poll asked whether voters wanted a president who would enforce the law to restore security or someone who would address the nation’s racial divisions.
Voters said they preferred a candidate who would address the nation’s racial divisions by a 47% to 38% margin.
Perhaps most interesting is the polling that questions voters about Biden and Trump on the issue of law and order. Two polls from June did exactly that.
Biden actually beats Trump by a 49% to 42% margin on who is trusted more on law and order in an average of June Kaiser Family Foundation and Pew Research Center polls.
In other words, Biden beats Trump on the terrain that Trump wishes this election were about. That seven-point difference looks a lot like the overall polling showing Biden with about a 10-point advantage.
More analysis from CNN's Harry Enten
And if the current polling isn’t enough, remember what happened the last time Trump tried to shift a campaign to the culture wars. When Republicans were in trouble ahead of the 2018 midterm election, Trump started talking about the “caravan” of migrants coming up from the south. He did so in mid-October 2018.
Trump’s tactic didn’t work.
The Republican Party faced an eight-point deficit on the generic congressional ballot in mid-October 2018. They ended up losing the House popular vote by nine points.
Looking at these numbers, there’s not a lot of reason to think this time will be different. There’s no obvious pathway forward.
What is clear is that Trump can’t just change the subject. Trump needs to change voters’ minds.