When his supporters in the 2024 Republican primary were asked whether they were backing him because of his position on the issues or his character traits, 89% said the latter.
In contrast, for backers of the other GOP candidates, 63% said it was because of their stances on the issues.
This discrepancy gets at something that has been true for a while: Trump voters are less likely to approve of him personally than they are to think he cares for them and stands with them on the big issues. Trump’s so-called cult of personality is a far bigger thing for his detractors.
Think about what it was like when Trump was first running for president. He would attack candidates left and right from the debate stage. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio even tried to mimic Trump at a debate, but his poll numbers didn’t climb.
That’s because one of Trump’s weakest selling points during the 2016 primary season was his personality and temperament. Just 23% of Republicans said he scored best on this metric compared with the other candidates, an ABC News/Washington Post poll from that time found. And yet Trump held a 20-point-plus lead over the rest of the field in the primary ballot test in the same poll.
Then after Trump was elected president, you never knew what missive he was going to send from his Twitter account in the middle of the night.
Only a bare majority of people (52%) who held a favorable view of Trump just after his election thought he used Twitter appropriately, according to a Fox News poll. (Meanwhile, 90% of those who viewed him unfavorably believed he used Twitter inappropriately.)
Consider the latest Wall Street Journal poll taken after the first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 cycle. Trump was tied with President Joe Biden among those who would vote if the 2024 election was held today.
Yet, Trump faced a massive likability deficit in the same poll. Just 31% of voters said Trump was a likable person, while 48% said the same for Biden.
The reason why the race was so close came down to the issues. Trump held an 11-point edge (51% to 40%) when voters were asked who had a strong record of accomplishment as president. Likewise, more voters thought Trump had a vision for the future (52%) than Biden (44%).
One issue on which Trump has dominated his opponents has been the economy. In a spring ABC News/Washington Post survey, 54% of Americans said Trump did a better job of handling the economy when he was president compared with 36% for Biden.
This is the same dynamic that helped Trump win the presidency in 2016. In the ABC/Post poll taken during the 2016 primary season, Trump held leads between 30 and 40 points over his GOP rivals on the issues of immigration and terrorism (the two issues asked in the poll). He was up by a similar margin on the question of who was a strong leader.
To some extent, the opposite is true of Trump’s detractors. Yes, you’ll hear some people say they disagree with him over traditional liberal and conservative issues. But far more often, the dislike of Trump has more to do with his personality or his legal and ethical issues.
When Trump was on his way to losing reelection in 2020, only 34% of Americans said he was too conservative in an ABC News/Washington Post poll from last month. A plurality (43%) said he was about right in his views.
More recently, only 2% of Americans listed “Republican/conservative” as the first word that comes to their minds about Trump, according to an AP/NORC poll from August. Just 1% say he’s a “dictator” or “fascist”.
People who associated negative words with Trump were far likelier to say he’s “corrupt”, a “liar”, a “bully”, etc., in the AP/NORC poll.
The point I’m trying to make here is that Trump’s personality is something that disqualifies him in the minds of a lot of voters. It’s not something that qualifies him for his supporters. It’s a side effect for his backers.
Many choose to look past it because they believe Trump will be able to accomplish what they want.