President Donald Trump’s push to reframe the election as an existential choice between chaos and law and order appears to have fallen way short in key swing counties across the country.
A new survey conducted for Newsweek by the London-based polling company Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that just 4 percent of registered voters in 206 counties that voted twice for Barack Obama, then flipped for Trump in 2016, listed “law and order” as a key policy area that would determine how they cast their ballot.
The top issues for these voters were the economy (40 percent) and health care (28 percent).
The findings are a blow for the president, who spent much of the summer trying to revive the “law and order” message that propelled Richard Nixon to the White House.
The phrase became Trump’s 2020 campaign slogan protests over police brutality and racial injustice erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed while in Minnesota police custody.
Trump has used instances of violence in such locations as Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, to criticize Democrat-run cities and appeal to his base. He’s used footage of the clashes in campaign advertisements, with one titled “This Is Joe Biden’s America.” Biden has pushed back, repeatedly stating that he does not condone looting or rioting of any kind.
A possible explanation for why Trump’s message has fallen flat is the fact that a majority of the racial justice demonstrations that swept the nation after Floyd’s death remained peaceful, according to a study from the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Researchers wrote in their report that “in more than 93% of all demonstrations connected to the movement, demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity.”
In the new poll, a plurality of voters in swing counties—45 percent—said the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the BLM movement and the broader debate have had “little effect” on how they will be voting in this year’s election. Thirty-three percent of respondents said the issue has had a “significant effect” on how they will vote.
Law and order was a point of contention during the first presidential debate last month as Trump accused Biden of refusing to voice support for the police community and insisted that crime would go up if he lost the election.
“Law and order with justice where people get treated fairly,” the former vice president responded. “And the fact of the matter is, violent crime went down 17 percent, 15 percent in our administration. It’s gone up on his watch.”
But during the final debate last week, both candidates changed their tune and accused the other of being too tough on crime. Trump, despite being a “law and order” candidate, touted the sentences his administration has commuted and criticized Biden for his work on the 1994 crime bill.
“Your crime bill, the superpredators,” Trump said. “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, possible exception, but the exception of Abraham Lincoln, nobody has done what I’ve done.”
Overall, the survey found that more respondents said they will support Biden instead of Trump. Among registered voters who plan to vote, 47 percent will back Biden, 41 percent will back Trump, and 9 percent don’t know who they will support.
The Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll surveyed 1,700 adults online between October 17 and 18. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative.
Newsweek reached out to both the Trump and Biden campaigns for comment on the poll but did not hear back in time for publication.