(CNN)Two developments in the presidential race in the past week have grabbed Americans’ attention: the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to sit on the Supreme Court and President Donald Trump‘s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
Alongside these two stories, coronavirus remained a frequently-mentioned topic for both Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Trump, and for Biden, news about the upcoming presidential debate began to register.Nearly all of the top 20 words mentioned when Americans are asked what they heard, read or saw about each of the two candidates related to one of those matters.Election 101These findings come from The Breakthrough, a project from CNN, SSRS and researchers from Georgetown University and the University of Michigan tracking Americans’ recall of news about each of the presidential candidates.The survey was almost entirely completed before the release of a New York Times story Sunday night reporting that Trump had not paid federal taxes in 10 out of 15 years beginning in 2000, and had paid just $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017.Read MoreFor Trump, the court was a clear dominant story this week, rating as his top topic and making up three of his top five words for the week. Coronavirus followed “Supreme” and “Court” as the third most frequently mentioned word, and the overall topic landed in second place this week. Just behind that were responses related to Trump’s comments on the legitimacy of the upcoming election. “Election” was the fourth most frequently mentioned word for Trump this week, “power” landed in the top 10. After court-related combinations such as “Supreme Court” and “court nominee,” “transition of power” and “peaceful transition” were near the top of a list of frequently used phrases. Trump’s recent claims about mail-in ballots and questions about the legitimacy of the election have been a part of what Americans have recalled about the President throughout the campaign, but have spiked in mentions this week.For Biden, “coronavirus” and “debate” are the only two substantive words to land in his top five, with “Supreme” and “Court” just outside of the top five. As has been the case in several recent weeks where the news has not centered on Biden or his campaign, recollections about his regular campaigning, media appearances and general positive mentions outweigh most issues. Coronavirus, however, is his second most frequently mentioned topic, and the Supreme Court lands as fifth. Just behind that are debate mentions. Further down in Biden’s list of most frequently mentioned words are two notable ones: The 13th most mentioned word for Biden this week is “ad,” and slightly behind that is “health care.” Mentions of Biden’s ads have landed in his top 20 for each of the last three weeks, while it has never reached that level for Trump. For Trump this week, “ad” is his 73rd most mentioned word. In recent weeks, the Biden campaign’s ad spending has outpaced the Trump campaign’s spending. The prominence of the word ad in Biden’s mentions suggests they are being seen.Biden’s campaign and Senate Democrats have sought to turn the focus of Barrett’s nomination to the future of the Affordable Care Act, and health care’s rise within Biden’s mentions suggest the effort could have some traction. The phrase narrowly cracked the top 20 last week and gained some this week.The share of Americans saying they had seen, read or heard something about each of the candidates rose in the last week. Recall of news about Trump remains a bit higher than about Biden (83% had heard something about Trump, 80% about Biden).More on Voting
As attention on the campaign has grown, a clear pattern has emerged in how Americans are processing and recalling news about each of the two men vying for the presidency. Recollections about Biden are steady and consistently positive. The word “good” lands near the top of the list just about every week (it is his top word this week), alongside general notes that he is running for president or has appeared in the media. Issues do crop up occasionally, most notably around the summer’s renewed Black Lives Matter protests and now, with health care.On Trump’s side of the results, however, there is abundant volatility in the words Americans use in their recall of news about Trump. Even as certain topics remain near the top — coronavirus, most notably — responses describing what people have heard about the President regularly contain more notable new words each week than do those about his Democratic challenger.And the tone of responses about Biden is more often positive than negative, while sentiment in the words used about Trump remains more negative than positive.