Donald Trump conferencia Casa Blanca 08/13
CNN  — 

The coronavirus isn’t just dominating this year of Donald Trump’s presidency, it’s also defining his campaign. New research from a CNN polling project called The Breakthrough shows that in this unusual election year, Americans are hearing more about Trump than they are about Joe Biden, and what they hear about Trump is more likely about coronavirus than any other topic.

Americans are hearing about a more varied range of topics when they hear about Biden, and those things are more often positive than they are for the President.

Those findings are the result of six weeks worth of polling asking Americans what they have heard, read or seen about the presidential candidates lately.

CNN and its polling partner SSRS have teamed up with researchers from Georgetown University and the University of Michigan to ask this question of Americans every week from the end of June through Election Day. This first batch of results lays out the environment Trump and Biden will each face in defining themselves for voters as they head in to their conventions and the fall campaign season.

Each week so far, roughly 7 in 10 Americans report having seen, read or heard something about the President in the past few days, compared with roughly 6 in 10 saying the same about Biden, who will officially become the Democratic nominee for president during the Democratic National Convention, which kicks off Monday.

That mirrors the dynamic in the last presidential race. In polling conducted by Gallup in 2016, more people reported hearing, reading or seeing any information about Trump in most weeks than said the same about his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

But there is a critical difference shaping up between the data collected in 2016 and the results we are seeing in 2020. What Americans are hearing about Trump more often focuses on the ongoing coronavirus outbreak than on any other topic.

What Americans have read or heard about Trump July 13, 2020 - August 9, 2020.

In 2016, the top topic for Trump varied week to week, and no single topic came to dominate his candidacy. Discussion around Clinton, however, was relentlessly dominated by discussion of the controversy surrounding her use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State.

The pattern in the data on Trump this year seems to mirror Clinton’s rather than his own 2016 trendline. In each week, coronavirus has been both the top topic mentioned when Americans say what they’ve heard about the President, and it is the top individual word for each week as well.

In five of the six weeks of data, mentions of coronavirus for Trump are generally higher among Democrats and independents than among Republicans. The President’s partisans, in each week except for one, are more likely to mention a word related to the economy, reopening or unemployment than are Democrats and independents.

Even with the dominance of coronavirus in Trump’s mentions, his individual policy actions do break through: For the week ending August 9, for example, “executive,” “order” and “stimulus” all appeared in the top 20, as did “TikTok.”

The data on Biden reveal a different pattern. His top topic varies week to week, and the most frequent to top the list is general positive mentions of the candidate – that category includes words like “nice,” “honest,” “good” and “cares.” The word “good” was one of Biden’s top three words in five out of the six weeks for which we have data.

In the most recent two weeks, mentions tilted toward Biden’s imminent announcement of a running mate. Vice president (and variations of that title) were the top topic in the week when Biden announced he would make his pick in the first week of August, and the phrase landed as the top word in the week leading up to his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris.

What Americans have read or heard about Biden July 13, 2020 - August 9, 2020.

But the general nature of words and topics associated with Biden’s run could be a hurdle for the presumptive nominee. Mentions of seeing Biden on TV or in the news are frequently near the top of the list for him, ahead of any particular policy ideas Biden’s campaign may be using to drive their coverage.

And there are negatives lurking just below the surface for the former vice president. More say they have heard about Biden’s mental health and capability than say the same about Trump. That topic in regards to Biden has landed near the top among Republicans each week of the survey, and is consistently in the top 10 topics among independents.

In the most recent week of data, words related to a comment that Biden made about the relative diversity of the Latino and African American communities appeared throughout the list of top and new words: “Community” had almost as many mentions as “convention.” “Latino” and “African” were about on par with “vice,” “accept” and “nomination.” And the phrases “African American” and “Black people” were up there as well.

But the sentiment behind the things people are hearing about Biden is largely more positive than negative, according to an analysis of the words. In each of the six weeks so far, comments about Biden more often have an overall positive tone than a negative one. For the President, tone varies, with some weeks tilting positive and others leaning negative.

The overall gist of the findings thus far lines up with the tale being told by more traditional campaign polling: Taken together, the findings suggest Biden begins the sprint to Election Day from a more positive position than Trump. But the conversation continues.