Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading President Donald Trump in multiple presidential polls in battleground states amid the US coronavirus crisis.
Even though Biden hasn’t gotten as much of the national spotlight as Trump, or even some governors, in the age of Covid-19, these polls suggest it might not matter much. Biden is ahead in most surveys conducted in states where Trump won in 2016 — states that will likely be key to a Democratic victory in November.
While Trump is on television every day talking about the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Biden has kept a much lower profile. Attention isn’t everything; Trump’s handling of the coronavirus is not doing his approval rating many favors. Some recent polls have shown respondents, including independents, saying they disapprove of how Trump has handled the crisis so far. Trump badly needs independent voters in order to win in November.
The recent polls could suggest that Trump’s high-profile coronavirus response is hurting his poll numbers rather than helping them. And even though Biden is largely confined to his house and can’t do rallies or in-person fundraisers, his comparatively low profile isn’t hurting him — yet.
“Trump is dominating the news in the midst of a crisis, but he is not using the platform he has to materially improve his position in the horse race,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “If Trump were cutting into Biden’s national lead and consistently leading in the key states that won him the White House, Democratic concern would be warranted. But that is not what is happening.”
A recent New York Times analysis of 2016 and 2020 polls showed that Biden and Trump each have areas of strengths and weaknesses: Trump is doing better with nonwhite voters than he did in 2016, while Biden is doing better with women than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Biden is also surging among older voters, which could be especially troubling for Trump; they’re a valuable group because they turn out to vote reliably.
Of course, these polling results merely provide us with a snapshot in time. We still have seven months of what’s sure to be a knives-out campaign between Biden and Trump. Given the coronavirus, we have no idea what that campaign will look like. And as the incumbent, Trump already has a significant war chest and fundraising advantage.
“Two things can be true at the same time. Biden has a lead outside the margin of error, both nationally and in a lot of key battleground states,” said elections analyst Dave Wasserman, house editor for the Cook Political Report. “But Trump, unlike 2016, has a financial infrastructure head start that could help him define the alternative in even more sophisticated ways.”
What the latest batch of battleground polls say
Biden leads Trump by almost 6 percentage points in the latest RealClearPolitics polling average, but there’s been a deluge of recent polls from battleground states with some interesting findings as well.
Here are some of the most noteworthy:
- Fox News polled voters in Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania from April 18-21, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. When voters were asked who they’d vote for if the election were held today, Biden led in all three states, albeit more narrowly in Florida. He topped Trump 50 to 42 percent in Pennsylvania, 49 to 41 percent in Michigan, and 46 to 43 percent in Florida (which falls within the poll’s margin of error). In all three states, Biden owes his lead to women voters, leading Trump by 12 percentage points in Florida and by roughly 20 percentage points in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
- A Reuters poll of voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin from April 15-20, with a 5-percentage-point margin of error, also asked who voters would support if the election were held today. Biden led Trump 46 to 38 percent in Michigan, 46 to 40 percent in Pennsylvania, and 43 to 40 percent in Wisconsin (again, within the margin of error).
- A Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters conducted from April 16-20 with a 2.6-percentage-point margin of error found Biden with a slight 46 to 42 percent lead over Trump. Among Florida independents, Biden’s lead grew to 7 percentage points, leading Trump 44 to 37 percent.
- Two national polls conducted in mid-April, one by the Economist/YouGov and the other by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, both found Biden leading Trump by 6 and 7 percentage points, respectively.
There are some important takeaways from these polls. Even with record unemployment and a recession, Trump isn’t being judged as harshly on the economy as he is for his handling of the coronavirus. The Fox poll in Michigan found that 59 percent of voters surveyed said the president’s response to the coronavirus was too slow, compared with 38 percent who said it was appropriate. And Fox’s Florida poll found 55 percent of respondents agreed Trump’s coronavirus response was too slow, compared with 41 percent who said it was appropriate.
Trump is still getting decent marks for his handling of the economy. The RealClearPolitics average of his economic approval rating shows it holding steady. But Trump’s booming economy is gone, and individual states and businesses aren’t opening up as soon as he would like, spelling uncertainty.
“Voters are not holding the economic downturn against him because they view this as an unfortunate turn of world events,” said Wasserman. “Where things could go off the rails for Republicans and the president is if we begin seeing a massive quantity of stories about government dysfunction in delivering aid to entities who need it.”
For another thing, polls show that the vast majority of Americans — Democrat and Republican alike — think America’s social distancing measures are a responsible way to deal with the coronavirus and should continue. That’s at odds with some of the president’s messaging, including tweets to encouraging residents of different states to “liberate.”
Sure, Trump is getting much more press and exposure than Biden. But it’s definitely not all good press; for instance, the president has drawn criticism for his Thursday speculation that potential coronavirus cures could involve injecting disinfectants into the body (something that is harmful and should not be done).
“Just because Trump gets way more attention does not mean that the attention is good for his position,” said Kondik. “Trump dominating the news might actually make it even likelier that voters will see the election as an up or down vote on him.”
The general election hasn’t kicked off in earnest yet
We still have a long way to go until the general election. Just because Biden has an edge now doesn’t mean he’ll maintain it throughout the summer and fall.
Even though it doesn’t appear to be hurting him now, at least one poll showed that a plurality of voters don’t really know what Biden has been saying about the coronavirus. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in mid-April showed that 42 percent weren’t aware of Biden’s coronavirus statements or didn’t have an opinion about his response, compared with 26 percent who said they trusted Biden when it comes to the coronavirus and 29 percent who said they didn’t.
So far, Biden is getting along fine filming interviews, Zoom town halls, and fundraisers from his home. And we’re still months away from a possible Democratic National Convention, though it’s uncertain whether it will even take place. But at this point, Biden is the presumptive nominee. If his message isn’t getting through to voters, he might want to rethink what will, Wasserman said.
“For most voters, Biden is more of a concept than a candidate with a concrete message,” he said. “Biden’s campaign to date has been themed ‘battle for the soul of the nation.’ The voters who are going to decide the election don’t want a battle for the soul of the nation as much as they want a battle for a functional federal government.”
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