The Times poll is the big news of the day but that’s a national poll, and we don’t have national elections. We have 50 state elections. The state polls matter more.
But the state polls today are sending the same message as the national one: There’s been a meaningful shift towards Biden that’s put Trump nine or so points off the pace he set against Hillary Clinton four years ago. He won Ohio by eight in 2016; today it’s a jump ball according to Quinnipiac, with Biden holding a 46/45 lead. That’s not an outlier either. A Fox News poll of the state taken three weeks ago found Biden up two.
Four years ago in Wisconsin Trump famously eked out a win by less than a point in a state Clinton didn’t bother to campaign in. Today Biden leads 49/41 according to a new poll from Marquette Law. Marquette has had the race tight in its other polls this year, ranging from a tie in February to a four-point Biden lead in January. Last month it was Biden by three. Suddenly that lead has more than doubled, in keeping with various other polling (like the NYT survey) showing a strong recent trend towards the Democrat.
My theory in the post about the Times poll was that Trump’s recent handling of the pandemic was doing him more harm than anyone realized. The Marquette poll, though, suggests that it really is the national protests against racism and Trump’s response to them that are hurting him most.
Approval is lowest for Trump’s handling of protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody. Thirty percent approve of Trump’s handing of the protests, and 58 percent disapprove. Eleven percent say they don’t know.
Approval of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak is 44 percent, and disapproval is 52 percent, with 3 percent who don’t know. In May, 44 percent approved and 51 percent disapproved…
In May, Trump led Biden among Republicans 93 percent to 1 percent. In June, his lead over Biden was 83 percent to 8 percent among Republicans.
Independents had preferred Trump over Biden in May by 34 percent to 27 percent. That preference reversed in June, with Biden supported by 38 percent to Trump’s 30 percent.
Very little change from May to June on his handling of the pandemic but 30/58 on the protests is an ugly number. Given that various surveys show Americans approve of the protests generally, it may be costing him — not just among independents but among his own party. Trump likes to tout the fact that he has “95 percent approval within the Republican Party” but his party is less loyal to him in Wisconsin when matched against Biden than Democrats are to Sleepy Joe. Biden wins Dems 97/1(!) whereas Trump wins Republicans 83/8. This helps explains why the president’s share of the vote lately in some head-to-head polling has been lower than his job approval: Some Republicans who otherwise approve of him, however tepidly, are crossing the aisle when offered Biden as an alternative. Maybe there are enough BLM sympathizers within the GOP to account for that.
But there are other possible explanations. Axios recently conducted a small focus group with swing voters in the swing state of Pennsylvania and asked them what their issues are with Trump. Some complained about his handling of the pandemic (“annoyed,” “irritated,” and “frustrated” that he won’t wear a mask), others complained about his handling of the protests (“I would like to see him make a call for unity and actually follow through on that”). But generally people complained about the overall sense of “chaos”: “People are just over it. They’re over his mouth, they’re over his everything about him and his whole bit, that they’re ready for any kind of change.” That’s an underrated explanation for the shift towards Biden. More so than any single issue, the feeling that the country is out of control and the sense of fatigue at Trump’s antics may be leading people, including some Republicans, to throw in the towel.
Another possible explanation is Trump consistently picking the unpopular side of issues as they arise and drilling down on them. I mentioned that in the post about the Times poll in the context of wearing masks and holding rallies. The public likes masks and dislikes mass gatherings indoors; rather than throw them a bone by donning a mask and at least holding his events outdoors, Trump does things his way and may be paying an electoral price. A possibly more damaging example is his outspoken criticism of voting by mail, which he thinks (or at least pretends to think) is rife with fraud but which most of the public supports. What’s especially stupid about his crusade against mail-in ballots is that it’s destined to make it harder for members of his own party to vote for him this fall. There’s already evidence of it, in fact:
In the key swing state of Pennsylvania, which began allowing no-excuse absentee voting this year, 1.3 million Democrats requested a mail-in ballot for the June 2 primary, nearly two-and-a-half times the number of Republican voters who did so.
Democrats also outpaced Republicans in absentee voting in Iowa’s primary that same day, and pulled even with Republicans in Georgia’s primary on June 9 after years of running behind…
“He is disadvantaging Republican candidates and campaigns,” [GOP consultant Rob Stutzman] said. “I don’t know any strategist that thinks it’s a good idea to be pooh-poohing vote-by-mail.”
Politico reports today that 300,000 more Democrats than Republicans have signed up to vote by mail in Florida so far. Four years ago the Democratic advantage at this point was just 8,800 votes. Trump ended up beating Clinton there by just 100,000 or so votes and currently trails Biden by an average of 6.2 points. He needs every vote he can get, so why is he discouraging fans to use all means available to them to cast their ballots for him?
One more Florida data point for you, again on the topic of Trump picking losing battles. This comes from a poll of Jacksonville, which sits in a county that Trump won in 2016 and where he’s prepared to accept the GOP nomination later this summer. Naturally residents are happy about that, right? No, of course not:
Normally a city would be glad to host an event like this, knowing what it can do for the local economy. But in an age of COVID and civil unrest, residents seem about as excited for it as Tulsa residents were for Trump’s rally last weekend. Fully 71 percent of Jacksonvillians say they’re at least somewhat concerned about coronavirus transmission stemming from the event and 65 percent say they’re at least somewhat concerned about “protests and civil unrest” around the convention. Trump can’t afford to do anything to alienate voters in northern Florida, as that was his bread and butter in 2016. If he loses that region he probably loses the state, and if he loses the state he’s almost certainly going to lose the presidency.
But he can’t grasp — or doesn’t care — that Americans’ appetite for indoor mass gatherings right now isn’t the same as his so he’s going to follow through anyway.
There’s one more possible explanation for Biden’s polling rise. People just like him better than Trump (and Hillary Clinton), and as Trump does things that annoy them it may be leading them to like Biden more. Ari Fleischer put it this way a few days ago:
The name “Sleepy” Joe Biden should be retired. It’s not working for Trump, and after 3 1/2 years of red hot Trump, and now the pandemic, many voters may welcome a quieter, sleepier era, thinking Biden is the right anecdote, even if they think he’s kind of old and lacks energy.
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) June 22, 2020
Matt Bai fleshed that out a bit in a column:
Of the 47 percent of voters who said Clinton wasn’t qualified to serve, only 5 percent voted for her. That’s about what you’d expect.
Of the 61 percent of voters who said the same thing about Trump, however, 17 percent ignored their judgment and voted for him anyway.
In Florida, where Trump won by just over a single percentage point, more than half the electorate found him unqualified, and yet 16 percent of those voters cast a ballot for him. In Pennsylvania, where he won by an even slimmer margin, a stunning 21 percent of voters who said Trump didn’t have the right temperament for the job voted to send him to the White House.
In other words, on the night that marked his apex in political life, Trump’s margin of victory came from reluctant voters who almost certainly thought they were voting for the losing candidate, and who felt confident he’d make a terrible president.
Trump is the ultimate lesser-of-two-evils candidate. In 2016 he was richly blessed with an opponent whom one might plausibly argue was the greater evil. That argument doesn’t work nearly as well against Biden. And although I’ve made this point before, I’ll say again that the pandemic and the George Floyd fallout are both crises that serve Biden unusually well and Trump unusually poorly by playing up their hugely different capacities for expressing empathy. Trump’s reaction amid all that death and grief was to chatter incessantly about opening up for business and threatening looters with military force. Biden’s reaction was to do the more familiar presidential shtick about healing and unity. Maybe that, and nothing more complicated, explains the greater appetite for Biden among voters lately.
I’ll leave you with this.
Trump struggling in Ohio is a BFD.
He won it by ~8 in 2016. Here’s how the map looks if states Trump won by *smaller margins* flip blue this fall. To be clear, this is NOT a prediction but rather an illustration of how critical Ohio is for the president. https://t.co/qrUwKBCfan pic.twitter.com/JjLqHz9NbA
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) June 4, 2020