The job of a president includes the need to show diplomatic charm, address the general public with skill, appoint and promote great minds — or sometimes great allies — and manage crises on a daily basis.

But is it important for the head of state to have a strong moral compass, too?

In a new national poll conducted by Harris X for the Deseret News, American voters were asked whether it is the responsibility of the president to provide moral leadership to the people they represent.

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A strong majority of respondents, 94%, across the political spectrum said yes.

“It makes sense that the overwhelming majority of Americans would see providing moral leadership as an important role for the president in a general sense,” said Jay DeSart, the chair of history and political science at Utah Valley University.

He said that since the role of the president is so central to American politics, “it is understandable that the public would so overwhelmingly believe that the person who occupies that office should provide leadership, moral or otherwise.”

“It’s just what they mean by ‘moral leadership’ and how it applies to individual candidates that is always the crux of the issue,” DeSart added.

This survey was conducted by HarrisX from July 31 to Aug. 1, 2023, and included responses from 935 registered voters nationwide and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Voters were also asked which of the presidential candidates for 2024 would do a good job providing moral leadership as president, revealing steep partisan divides.

Roughly two-fifths of voters said former President Donald Trump would do a good job while nearly half said he was doing a poor job and 11% said they didn’t know.

Out of GOP voters, 7 in 10 approved of his moral leadership, while only 14% of Democrats said the same. Meanwhile, roughly 36% of independent voters said he did a good job.

“Partisans on each side of the aisle have a psychological motivation to report that their own party’s candidates are much better suited than anyone in the opposition party to do just about anything, let alone provide moral leadership,” said DeSart.

“Their partisan lenses simply lead them to view their own party’s candidates much more favorably, sometimes even in spite of evidence to the contrary.”

Chris Karpowitz, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy and a professor of political science at Brigham Young University, also said the results of the poll showcase “partisan cheerleading.”

Former President Donald Trump

The survey coincided with news of Trump’s third indictment, to which he pleaded not guilty on Thursday. The court documents allege that the former president “was determined to remain in power” after losing the 2020 presidential election to President Joe Biden, and he “repeated and widely disseminated” false claims about the election’s legitimacy, as Deseret News reported.

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“These numbers are particularly striking, given that Donald Trump has now been indicted three times and was recently found liable for sexual abuse in a civil trial,” said Karpowitz.

A jury in New York awarded columnist E. Jean Carroll, who claimed she was sexually abused by Trump, $5 million in May this year.

“In other words, he is facing legal trouble for both his personal behavior and his actions as president, all of which would seem to bear on his capacity for moral leadership,” Karpowitz added.

President Joe Biden

Biden performed similarly to Trump, with two-fifths of voters saying he does a good job and half of the respondents saying he does a poor job with moral leadership, while 11% were unsure.

Along partisan lines, Biden’s approval rating was a mirror image of Trump’s.

Three-quarters of Democrats said Biden was doing a good job while only 1 in 10 Republicans, and 27% of Independents, said the same.

Biden has also faced controversy as of late. GOP lawmakers have ramped up congressional investigations into the Biden family, alleging that the president was involved in the murky foreign business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden. And a business associate of Hunter Biden recently came forward to allege the Bidens engaged in influence peddling, and said President Biden spoke to business leaders during his son’s phone calls.

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Kamala Harris and Mike Pence

Utah State University political science professor Michael Lyons noted that “the assessments of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are almost identical,” with nearly two-fifths approving of her moral leadership, and almost half of those quizzed disapproving.

“How many people really know enough about Kamala Harris actually to assess her ‘moral leadership?’ The question ‘Who had been the better president — Donald Trump or Joe Biden?’ would have produced a very similar result,” said Lyons.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, the presidential candidate for 2024, ranked behind Harris. Voters were split on his performance on moral leadership — almost 4 in 10 said he did a good job and the same number said he did a poor job. Nearly 30% said they didn’t know.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Ron DeSantis

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democratic presidential candidate, also ranked higher than many others, with approximately 35% of voters saying Kennedy would do a good job. Out of those respondents who approved, more than one in four Democrats, Republicans and Independents agreed.

Only one-fourth of all respondents said he would do a bad job and two-fifths said they didn’t know.

“To me, the most interesting things in the poll are the rather positive scores for Robert Kennedy Jr. and the high negatives for Ron DeSantis,” said Lyons.

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For DeSantis, the Florida governor and a GOP presidential candidate for 2024, 34% said he would do a poor job, while 32% said a good job. He had a net positive rating among Republicans, with 47% saying he would do a good job compared to 18% who said poor job, but a net negative rating among Democrats and independents. Among independents, 33% said poor job and 30% said good job.

The results show that voters don’t know enough about some of the GOP presidential candidates, including businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, as well as Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson, to make a judgment, DeSart said.

He pointed out that it’s “likely that many respondents don’t know which party some of these candidates are affiliated with, and therefore don’t have the partisan cue to tap into in coming up with their response,” he said.

Whether they can make their mark before the Republican presidential caucus starts on Jan. 15, 2024, is yet to be seen.

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