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A banner hangs outside of what will be a poling place for Tuesday's election on November 1, 2020 in Racine, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Images) A banner hangs outside of what will be a poling place for Tuesday's election on November 1, 2020 in Racine, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A banner hangs outside of what will be a poling place for Tuesday's election on November 1, 2020 in Racine, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke November 2, 2020

Voters choosing more on party than personality, but Trump is the exception for some

If Your Time is short

  • This comment was made in a segment discussing Trump’s support among suburban women.

  • Within that group, it’s at least partially true. Trump’s abrasive approach doesn’t appear to be resonating with that group, and fewer are likely to support him than in 2016.

  • More broadly speaking, party is playing a growing role in voters’ decisions — not a shrinking one.

  • Voters are less likely than in the past to cast ballots supporting candidates from multiple parties, and presidential approval and other measures of partisanship show increasing polarization.

In a year and an election that has been polarized at every turn, are voters focusing more on party or personality?

That’s the question a freshman state representative addressed while discussing — in part — how President Donald Trump is faring among suburban women.

Those voters are a key demographic for Trump, one he has been overtly courting in the runup to the presidential election. At a mid-October rally in Pennsylvania. Trump declared: "Suburban women, will you please like me? Please. Please."

As part of an Oct. 25, 2020, segment on suburban women on WISN-TV’s UpFront program, state Rep. Robyn Vining said this:

"We get a lot of calls from national press asking what’s happening here so that they can try and understand what the shift is in the suburbs, but I think people are less likely to just vote for party now," said Vining, D-Wauwatosa. "I really believe that they vote for people, so they’re looking at the personalities who are running for office — who can they trust? It’s not just who do I want to have a beer with now, it’s also who can I trust, who can I trust to fight for me like they’re fighting for their own family. And I think moms look at it that way."

So Vining was presumably asked about Trump’s support in the suburbs — the TV clip doesn’t show what exactly she was responding to — but her statement offers a broad assertion that voters in 2020 are considering personality more than they have in the past.

Let’s take a look.

Trump’s personality has an impact

If we interpret Vining’s comment to narrowly address suburban women’s response to Trump, there’s a truth there.

"It is clear that their support for Trump actually has dropped off quite a lot," said Kenneth Mayer, professor of American politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "All of the data point to the fact that what is changing the attitudes of these voters is Trump, his sort of personality and operating style."

A New York Times analysis by UCLA Professor Lynn Vavreck said polls show suburban white women are among the groups with the largest swings away from Trump in 2020 compared to 2016.

More people voting along party lines

But Vining’s statement seems to make a broader claim about voters choosing based on personality, and "the evidence does not support that," Mayer said.

Featured Fact-check

The frequency of ticket splitting — voters who support candidates from multiple parties on the same ballot — and the general polarization of the country show Americans are making party-based decisions now more than ever.

An analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com found ticket splitting hit an all-time low in 2018, the last time many states had an election offering voters a candidate from multiple parties in a statewide election (senator and governor, for instance).

The median difference between the margin of victory in the senate and gubernatorial races has regularly declined since at least 1998, hitting a low in 2018. In other words, voters are increasingly unlikely to vote for one party for senate and another for governor. 

That analysis concluded "more voters are casting straight-ticket ballots. There are exceptions, of course, but this shift matches what we know about the larger electoral picture: voters are more partisan and the country is more divided than it’s ever been in the modern era of U.S. politics."

A Pew Research Center poll conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 5 found only 4% of registered voters supported Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden and a U.S. Senate candidate from the opposing party.

And Trump’s approval rating offers further proof of the polarization, particularly when it comes to the president. The party split on his approval rating is the largest ever recorded by the Gallup poll, which goes back to President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s.

In the Oct. 16-27, 2020, Gallup poll, 95% of Republicans approved of Trump’s work in the White House, compared to 3% of Democrats — a 92-point gap. Before Trump, the largest gap recorded was a 77-point difference during President Barack Obama’s last year in office.

Our ruling

Vining said, "People are less likely to just vote for party now. … They’re looking at the personalities."

Looking narrowly at Trump’s support among suburban women, there’s a case this is accurate. Trump’s abrasive approach doesn’t appear to be resonating with that group, and fewer appear likely to support him than in 2016.

But Vining’s comment was more general than that. And broadly speaking, party is playing a growing role in voters’ decisions — not a shrinking one.

Voters are less likely than in the past to cast ballots supporting candidates from multiple parties. And they’re more likely than ever to agree with people from their own party when assessing something like the president’s job performance.

We rate this claim Half True. 

Our Sources

WISN-TV, "UpFront," Oct. 25, 2020

Email exchange with Robyn Vining, Oct. 28., 2020

New York Times, It’s Not Just Suburban Women. A Lot of Groups Have Turned Against Trump., Noc. 2, 2020

New York Times, ‘Please Like Me,’ Trump Begged. For Many Women, It’s Way Too Late., Oct. 17, 2020

FiveThirtyEight, Split-Ticket Voting Hit A New Low In 2018 Senate And Governor Races, Nov. 19, 2018

Pew Research Center, Large Shares of Voters Plan To Vote a Straight Party Ticket for President, Senate and House, Oct. 21, 2020

Gallup, Presidential Approval Ratings -- Donald Trump, Oct. 27, 2020

Gallup, Trump Job Approval Sets New Record for Polarization, Jan. 16. 2019

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More by Eric Litke

Voters choosing more on party than personality, but Trump is the exception for some

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