An interesting shift, made more interesting by the fact that Trump has also gained — a little — on Biden in the national average despite the spate of polls lately showing Biden with a gory 12- or 15-point lead. On June 23, he trailed the Democrat by an average of 10.2 points. Today it’s 8.6 points. Not great, but at least there’s movement in the right direction for him.
It makes me wonder if his effort to rebrand Biden as a pawn of left-wing radicals has gotten him some traction. Fox has the race 49/41 today, down from 50/38 a month ago. The big change has come among a demographic Trump badly needs to win this fall but which had slipped away from him in recent months, namely, senior citizens. Suddenly they’re back in the fold: “Whites with a college degree (+3) and without a degree go for Trump (+9). He’s also the choice among White evangelical Christians (+43), rural voters (+9) and seniors (+1). Last month, seniors went for Biden by 10.” News reports this week about the Biden/Bernie Unity Task Force may have convinced some seniors that Trump is right, that Sleepy Joe will become Antifa Joe once he’s elected and under the left’s thumb. The coverage of the CHAZ in Seattle and the anarchist vandalism in Portland may be contributing to senior angst as well.
So why is Trump still trailing by eight, the same deficit he faced when Fox measured the race in May? You know why.
[M]ore trust Biden to do a better job than Trump on race relations (+21) and coronavirus (+17 points). Last month, more trusted Biden on the virus by 9 points. The two are trusted about equally on the economy (Biden +1). It was a 3-point Trump edge in May.
Twenty-nine percent rank coronavirus the No. 1 problem facing the country. That tops the 15 percent who cite the economy and 10 percent who say race relations.
Eighty-six percent are concerned about coronavirus spreading, and the number saying the virus is “not at all” under control jumped 18 points since last month, from 33 percent to 51 percent.
COVID’s going to sink him if the epidemic doesn’t slow down by November. Trump has a puncher’s chance in November if either the virus “burns out” somehow a la New York and, against all odds, doesn’t reemerge for a fall second wave or if the pharmaceutical industry comes up with a game-changing treatment that knocks down the number of hospitalizations and deaths over the next three months. In either of those scenarios, Trump could plausibly say “the worst is behind us” and voters might turn their attention to other issues, like the economy, in which he fares better against Biden.
If he can’t plausibly say “the worst is behind us” on Election Day, he loses. I think the election really is as simple as that at this point.
Which is not to say that if the worst is behind us on November 3 that Trump definitely wins. He has a chance in that scenario, but he’s done himself a ton of damage with his messaging over the last few months, both on COVID and beyond. Fox finds Biden ahead on all sorts of personality metrics, including — wait for it — mental soundness.
Voters believe Trump lacks the key traits for the Oval Office: less than half think he has the mental soundness (43 percent), intelligence (42 percent), and judgment (40 percent) to serve effectively as president. For reference, 36 percent felt he had the necessary judgment in October 2016, less than a month before his election victory.
Biden bests Trump on each measure: 47 percent are confident in his mental soundness, 51 percent believe he has the intelligence and 52 percent say he has the judgment.
Yes, granted, it says right there in the excerpt that Trump has improved on “judgment” since 2016, an election he won. He had the good luck to run against a widely disliked opponent that year, though. Biden scores a 54/43 favorable rating here versus Trump’s 43/56. He’s going to need to figure out a different way to win this fall besides “lesser of two evils.”
There’s another national poll out this morning from a well-regarded pollster that isn’t as encouraging for him as Fox’s. ABC/WaPo has it Biden 55, Trump 40 among registered voters and Biden 54, Trump 44 among likely voters. ABC/WaPo is rated A+ for its quality by FiveThirtyEight and nailed Clinton’s popular-vote margin in 2016 in its final poll that year. A 10-point deficit among likely voters in their polling is a big hole to have to climb out of.
Three and a half months ago the two candidates were virtually even in trust to handle the pandemic, Trump +2 percentage points, 45-43%. Today, with COVID-19 cases surging around the nation, Biden leads Trump on the issue by a 20-point margin, 54-34%…
As reported Friday, approval of his handling of the pandemic has fallen from 51% in late March to 38% now, with disapproval up 15 points. He’s lost 7 points in approval of his handling of the economy, to 50%, with disapproval up 9…
Indeed, in a statistical analysis called regression, being worried about catching the coronavirus is a significant independent predictor of vote preference, controlling for other factors including partisanship, ideology and demographics.
Among Trump’s base of rural voters, his lead over Biden on who would handle the epidemic better has dropped from 47 points in March to 18 points now. Biden also leads on various personal attributes (like “understanding the problems of people like you”) by wide margins in this poll too, another reflection of his higher favorability and empathetic style.
In both surveys, the demographic group that’s killing Trump is women, specifically suburban women. The president leads among men in both polls, but only by a few points; meanwhile, Biden’s blitizing him among the opposite sex. Fox has him up by 19 among women while ABC has him ahead by 25. Among suburban men specifically, Trump leads by four. Among suburban women, Biden leads by … 36. Soccer moms are poised to make him a one-term president.
The craziest number of all: ABC finds Biden ahead on the issue of crime. He leads Trump by nine points currently when voters are asked whom they trust more to handle crime and safety. That’s not as much of an outlier as you may think, either. Harry Enten of CNN wrote a piece yesterday, before ABC’s poll was published, noting that “law and order” hasn’t been the sort of winning issue for Trump that we might expect. In June, Biden led Trump in polls by Pew and the Kaiser Family Foundation when people were asked whom they trusted more to maintain law and order. Maybe that’s a reaction to the fact that the current wave of crime in cities like New York and Portland is, after all, happening on Trump’s watch as president. It’s not his fault, but presidents have a way of being blamed for things that happen on their watch. Another possibility is that it’s a function of his overall poll deterioration. The less “sound” Americans think the president is, the less likely they are to trust him to handle anything. (His recent slide in questions about who’d best handle the economy may be due to that too.)
Enten suggests a third possibility. Questions about “handling crime” may be viewed by some in the context of race relations because of the civil unrest over George Floyd’s death and demands for police reform, and Biden reliably wins by big margins on who’d handle race relations better. Voters may feel that Trump’s strongman approach towards vandals and protesters is actually making the situation worse. This detail from a recent interview with Democratic analyst David Shor caught my eye:
This is significant:
"The real inflection point in our polling was the Lafayette Park incident, when Trump used tear gas on innocent people. That’s when support for Biden shot up and it’s been pretty steady since then."https://t.co/8cwg9gKqLA
— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) July 17, 2020
Public polls seem to bear that out. Look back at the trends and you’ll find that Biden’s lead really did start to take off at the beginning of June, right after the Lafayette Park incident. Trump had the Park Police go in and push out demonstrators as a show of strength, to “reclaim” the park for the forces of law and order. But it was so heavy-handed, and his Bible-waving photo op in front of the church so cynical, that it may have driven some undecideds into Biden’s camp. If that’s what happened, with people recoiling at the police action in the park that day, then yeah, go figure that some might rate him lower on how he “handles” crime now than they did a few months ago.
It’ll be interesting to see how DHS’s crackdown on protesters in Portland ends up moving those numbers in next month’s polling. Maybe the sustained vandalism there will convince undecideds that Trump was right after all to favor a “tough” approach in Lafayette Park, which may further close the gap between him and Biden.
One last point. Look back at the last month of polling on RCP’s scoreboard and you’ll find Trump reliably topping out at 40-41 percent among registered voters. Biden’s numbers move around but the president’s don’t. He’s stuck there. He does a bit better in polls of likely voters, rising to 44 percent, but 41 is a very low ceiling for an incumbent in polls of registereds. Overall he’s averaging just 40.7 percent against Biden even though his job approval average is a bit higher at 41.8 percent. We see the same thing on a smaller scale in today’s Fox poll: Trump’s job approval is at 45 percent but he only manages to win 41 percent of the vote head-to-head against Sleepy Joe. There’s a small but meaningful share of voters who are basically content with how he’s doing but prefer Biden nonetheless. He’s got to flip them back his way to have any shot at 270.