Trump vs. Clinton: Can Trump Close the Temperament Gap?

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(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images; Taylor Le/Pacific Standard)

The main question people have been asking ahead of the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: Which Donald Trump will show up?

We’re only 10 minutes in, so we don’t entirely know, and Trump’s people—bless their hearts—probably don’t either. (The Associated Press is reporting that “some Trump aides are more concerned about Trump’s disposition on the debate stage than his command of the issues.” What a scoop!) Based on his two opening exchanges, Trump looks underprepared, wandering off-script and into a version of his stump that doesn’t look terribly good on split-screen, though he’s working to modulate his normally boisterous stage presence. But Trump needs—badly—to convince voters that he can be semi-dignified, even in attack. (The worst outcome here for Clinton is 90 minutes of well-behaved Trump.) Clinton, meanwhile, has a trust gap of her own to close.

A McClatchy/Marist poll of likely voters released on September 23 outlines the challenges facing each candidate. These include “intangibles,” such as temperament and stamina:

  • 50 percent of likely voters said Hillary Clinton has the temperament to be president, compared to just 38 percent for Donald Trump.
  • 53 percent of likely voters said Trump has the stamina to be president, compared to just 39 percent for Clinton.
  • 44 percent of likely voters say Trump is “honest and trustworthy,” compared to just 36 percent for Clinton.
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The poll also measured trust gaps on specific policies:

  • 52 percent of likely voters said Clinton is more trustworthy on terror, compared to 41 percent for Trump.
  • 54 percent of likely voters said Clinton is more trustworthy on immigration, compared to 41 percent for Trump.
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There’s a fascinating difference between the first chart and the second: Voters tend to consider Clinton “untrustworthy” in the abstract, but when it comes to immigration, jobs, trade, and terror—all signature Trump issues — voters trust Clinton by significant margins.

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