Typically any presidential poll in modern America in which one candidate leads the other by double digits can be instantly dismissed as an outlier. “Biden by 14? Outlier. Next.”
This poll is not an outlier. At the moment, it’s the polls showing Trump within striking distance of Biden that are the outliers. Of the last 10 surveys tracked by RealClearPolitics, more than half have Biden up by double digits. The *best* poll for Trump in the batch is one that has him trailing by six. Biden’s lead in the RCP average is now up to 10.2 points, with Trump’s share of the vote dropping to an all-time low.
Biden's lead in the RCP Average is now 10.2% as Trump's support sinks to a record low of 40.9%. pic.twitter.com/lK8NROJlPE
— Tom Bevan (@TomBevanRCP) June 24, 2020
To put that in perspective, after Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee in 2016 he never trailed Clinton by more than 7.9 points in the RCP average, and even then only briefly. That race was characterized by periods in which Clinton would suddenly shoot out to a solid lead and then fall back into a tight race as voters remembered that they despised her. The polling on Trump vs. Biden is totally different: Biden’s never led by less than 4.4 points, has frequently led by six or more, and has seen his lead nearly double since late May. Almost a month of solid growth right now.
Which is amazing under the circumstances. It occurred to me this morning that, for all the damage the pandemic might be doing to Trump, this feels like a period in which he should be closing the gap with Biden. He had a hugely encouraging jobs report to start the month. And the scenes of vandals and looters smashing shop windows and tearing down statues plays right into his strongman “law and order” message. Now’s the perfect moment for him to say, “If you think this is bad, wait until these rioters and radicals have a liberal stooge in the White House who’s afraid to cross them.” And he has said things to that effect over the last few weeks.
And he’s getting blitzed in the polls anyway.
The Times sees erosion in his support across all sorts of groups but it’s elements of his white base defecting to Biden that are doing the most damage:
[T]he former vice president has also drawn even with Mr. Trump among male voters, whites and people in middle age and older — groups that have typically been the backbones of Republican electoral success, including Mr. Trump’s in 2016…
Most stark may be Mr. Biden’s towering advantage among white women with college degrees, who support him over Mr. Trump by 39 percentage points. In 2016, exit polls found that group preferred Mrs. Clinton to Mr. Trump by just 7 percentage points. The poll also found that Mr. Biden has narrowed Mr. Trump’s advantage with less-educated white voters…
Fifty-two percent of whites under 45 said they supported Mr. Biden while only 30 percent said they supported Mr. Trump. And their opposition is intense: More than twice as many younger whites viewed the president very unfavorably than very favorably…
What’s striking, though, is that even among white seniors, one of Mr. Trump’s strongest constituencies, he has damaged himself with his conduct. About two-fifths of whites over 65 said they disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of both the coronavirus and race relations.
Trump still leads handily with his core base of whites without college degrees (+19) but that’s just half as well as he did with that group against Hillary in 2016, when he won them by 37. Right now he leads among whites overall by just one point. Needless to say, given the huge Democratic advantage among nonwhite voters, any Republican who’s splitting whites evenly with a Democrat is going to get his ass handed to him.
There are many possible explanations for that but the simplest one is that Biden is just much harder to hate than Clinton was. His favorable rating here is 26/27; by comparison Trump’s is 27/50. What Republicans have tried to avoid from the beginning of this campaign was letting it turn into a referendum on Trump instead of a choice between two flawed candidates. Nominating Bernie Sanders would have helped the GOP a ton in that regard. Nominating an amiable, generic old liberal like Biden has made it exceedingly hard.
The number that really grabbed me from the Times poll, though, is his rating on handling the coronavirus. Nearly 60 percent, including majorities of Trump’s own base of whites and men, disapprove of his performance on that issue. On the related question of whether the country should prioritize containing the virus (the Biden view) or reopening the economy (the Trump view), containment leads by 21 points. Reuters has a poll of its own out today with similarly grim numbers on Trump and COVID-19:
The poll shows that 37% of Americans approved of the way Trump has responded to the pandemic, the lowest on record since Reuters/Ipsos started asking the question at the beginning of March. Fifty-eight percent said they disapproved…
Members of Trump’s Republican Party also appeared to be more pessimistic than at any other time during his presidency. Just 43% said they thought the country was headed in the “right direction,” the lowest level recorded by the Reuters/Ipsos poll since Trump entered office in January 2017.
The conventional wisdom to explain Trump’s polling downturn this month is that it’s a backlash to his disinterest in conciliation with Black Lives Matter protesters. And there’s truth to that, no doubt. The Times poll finds a large majority of Americans, especially younger American, have a positive view of BLM. The excerpt above notes that even a sizable chunk of white senior citizens disapproves of how he’s handled race relations. But I wonder if the state of pandemic isn’t playing a larger role than we think in Trump’s struggles lately. After all, he seems to have detached almost completely from trying to manage it. Apart from occasional comments about the vaccine and how testing is supposedly a doubled-edged sword(!), he plays no real public role with respect to it except to cheerlead businesses reopening. It’s worse than that, in fact: If anything, his most meaningful contribution lately involving COVID-19 is needlessly exposing people to infection.
Worst day for new US #coronavirus cases since May 1. 3rd-worst day ever.
Worst day ever in Texas, California and Arizona, where Trump is giving a speech to 3,000 people not wearing masks (except for that one guy).
Elect a President who's not a radioactive dumbass. pic.twitter.com/L2OxW37CY9
— Rick G. Rosner (@dumbassgenius) June 24, 2020
The event yesterday in Arizona was the second indoor mass gathering he’s held in less than a week in a COVID-19 hotspot where people weren’t even required to wear masks. In the Times poll, 76 percent said they always or usually wear a mask when they expect to be around other people but Trump’s approach to masks at this point is, at best, indifference. Which reminds me of a point Dem pollster Will Jordan made last week:
One story of the past few months is Trump picking one 60-40 issue (or worse) after another and staking a claim on the 40 side. And gradually his approval rating approaching 40. https://t.co/EE81nUcVb2
— Will Jordan (@williamjordann) June 19, 2020
It’s absurd for him to resist pushing mask-wearing, if only as a matter of political self-interest. But he can’t get out of his own way. He’d rather stick to his position that masks are “weak,” knowing that voters disagree and that doing so might make the pandemic worse, than change course.
It’d be one thing if the president were working tirelessly to contain the spread and sending all the right signals about proper precautions. Even if the country suffered setbacks under those circumstances, undecideds could say, “Well, he’s trying. It’s a novel virus. It’s not easy.” But he seems palpably not to care. He won’t even hold his rallies outdoors as a small gesture towards minimizing contagion. I suspect the average voter, who’s terrified of getting sick themselves and is increasingly likely to know someone personally who’s gotten the disease, looks at that with utter contempt. And if that’s true, it raises the ominous possibility that Trump’s polling could get even worse soon. The spiking cases in Arizona, California, Texas, Florida, and South Carolina haven’t been on the public’s radar for long, but they will be. But if things don’t turn around there soon and we end up in a new crisis, Trump’s numbers on coronavirus are apt to slide further. As gaudy as a 10-point average lead for Biden is, and what that might portend in terms of electoral votes, it’s conceivable that he’s not at the high-water mark yet.
One last point about the Times poll. It’s not just that Biden’s lead is so large, it’s that Trump’s share of the electorate is down below 40 percent. That should never be the case considering how rock-solid support among his base is — supposedly. Trump aides have been watching for signs of his job approval slipping below 40 percent as a “nightmare scenario” since it would mean he’s beginning to lose some of the people who’ve stuck with him for so long, but it’s already happened twice in the last 10 polls tracked by RCP. But it’s not just that his approval has slipped; he’s actually polling *below* his approval in some surveys head-to-head with Biden, which means that even some of the people who think he’s doing a reasonably good job prefer the other guy. (People like … white evangelicals?) The president’s never scored consistently about 45-46 percent in job approval even in good times, and 46 is probably the bare minimum he needs to win the electoral college assuming all 46 percent vote for him. If we can’t assume that because some of that 46 percent is defecting to Biden then he’s in even more trouble than he thinks.