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Biden by 16 in Michigan: Fake news?

A ridiculous outlier, especially since the last poll of Michigan taken just a few weeks ago — by a Democratic pollster — showed a gap of just two points.

But if any further evidence was needed that the national mood has shifted against the GOP within the last few weeks, this is it. Even if we assume that Biden’s actual lead in Michigan is half of what it is here, that’s a daunting gap for Trump to make up.

There’s a mystery too. If swing voters have soured on Trump just within the last few weeks, why? What’s happened to suddenly put them off?

Two weeks ago, EPIC-MRA of Lansing, a polling firm that does work for the Free Press, released a survey showing former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, leading Trump 53%-41% in Michigan, a 12-point edge.

But a second poll, started on May 31, a day after the first poll began, and concluded a day later than the first poll, on June 4, showed Biden leading Trump 55%-39% in Michigan, a 16-point margin…

While it’s not known for certain what caused the change, the second survey added a day of polling in the immediate aftermath of law enforcement and military personnel on June 1 forcefully clearing peaceful protesters from a public square outside the White House. They used pepper spray and smoke canisters to move the crowd so Trump could have his photo takenholding a Bible outside St. John’s Church, which had been damaged in another protest.

Is that the explanation? The Lafayette Park spectacle was repulsive but I never would have guessed that average voters might care much about it. With all the protests going on, what’s one more case of cops clashing with demonstrators to someone who follows the news casually?

Maybe it wasn’t the operation in the park that alienated people, though. Conceivably it was the Bible photo op immediately afterwards in front of the church, which would have been a heavy-handed pander even for a politician like Mike Pence who really is devoutly religious. For someone like Trump, who evinces no interest in scripture, the obvious political motive may have led some voters to recoil.

But let’s back up. The idea that the Lafayette Park incident triggered a backlash isn’t borne out by the national polling. Here’s the trend over the last 30 days from RCP:

Biden’s numbers started to climb on May 31, the day before the operation in the park. In fact, he gained more between May 30 and June 1 (1.3 points) than he has since (0.8 points). Trump’s numbers actually rebounded slightly in the aftermath of Lafayette Park.

There’s a stronger case that his reaction, or rather non-reaction, to the George Floyd protests generally is what’s driven the shift towards Biden. As race relations become more important to swing voters, the two candidates’ relative ability to ease racial tensions logically might matter more. Trump’s approach to the protests has been to largely disengage apart from sporadically threatening to send U.S. troops into the streets against looters, which is probably what’s hurting him right now. It’s one thing for him to be Trumpy during normal times, when the stakes are low, it’s another for him to be Trumpy when they’re suddenly very high. Morning Consult’s data tells the tale:

The most interesting numbers from Morning Consult have to do with growing support for Biden among nonwhites since April. His lead on Trump has grown by 11 points among blacks aged 30-44 and by 10 points among Latinos aged 18-21, and to a lesser degree among other minority demographics. There’s no way to tell if that’s a direct result of how Trump has handled the Floyd protests or to a more complex array of factors, like the feds’ COVID-19 response and the state of the economy. But it’s safe to say at the very least that his response to the protests probably hasn’t helped.

In Trump’s defense, he was damned no matter what he did. If he had taken a conciliatory approach towards the protests and their underlying cause, he might have lost more base voters than he gained swing voters. Imagine how betrayed Tucker Carlson would have sounded on Fox! Trump was stuck so he reverted to instinct, which is to please his base. Biden now leads by six to 10 points in every recent national poll except one, and even some solid red states in 2016 are suddenly in play. And I don’t just mean Michigan:

Trump carried Iowa by 9 percentage points in his 2016 contest against Democrat Hillary Clinton. But today, the Register’s Iowa Poll shows the president leading former Vice President Joe Biden by just 1 point — 44% to 43%

A March Iowa Poll showed 41% of likely Iowa voters would support Biden in a general election against the president, and 51% said they would support Trump…

That ratings dip coincides with disapproval of the president’s handling of two major current events.

Forty-five percent of Iowans say they approve of how he has addressed COVID-19, while 53% disapprove and 6% are unsure. Just 37% approve of the way he has addressed protests surrounding race and police actions. Another 55% disapprove and 8% are unsure.

From 51/41 in March to 44/43 today, which is consistent with a widening lead for Biden in Michigan and the national polls. The entire map has moved for the moment. Further evidence? Lefty pollster PPP just polled Georgia and found both Trump and David Perdue suddenly trailing narrowly in their races. They have Biden up 48/46 and Democrat Jon Ossoff ahead of Perdue 45/44. The point there isn’t that the GOP is going to lose Georgia this fall; the point is that if Georgia is competitive right now, it likely means Biden really is ahead in more important swing states like Michigan and Arizona and has a shot at winning reddish battlegrounds like Iowa. The election won’t turn on Georgia, but if Georgia is a dogfight it likely means the states Biden needs for 270 are momentarily in his column.

Mitch McConnell was asked today if he plans to stay on as caucus leader next year if the GOP loses its majority. “I do,” he said. The fact that question would be answered earnestly and not ruled out as far-fetched is proof enough of where things stand at the moment. Maybe the brightening economic picture and inevitable protest fatigue among the public will start a new national shift towards the GOP sooner rather than later.