Can Bernie Sanders’ fade endanger Donald Trump’s ride to re-election? According to the GOP pollsters that first saw Trump gathering blue-wall strength last December, the incumbent president still has the advantage. Joe Biden’s renaissance in the Democratic primaries has yet to extend to the general electorate where it matters most — but it’s still close:
This week we continued our quarterly battleground polling series in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin asking likely 2020 general election voters their political opinions on President Trump, the 2020 presidential election, and other political topics. We polled likely 2020 General Election voters through a combination of live landline, live cell, and text message to web survey modes from March 5th to March 7th. A summary of our results is presented below.
Since our last survey in December, President Trump’s lead has dropped considerably against both Vice President Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. In each of the three states, Trump polls better in head-to-head matchups against Sanders than against Biden. Although Trump leads in each match-up, his leads against Biden are within the margin of error in each state, indicating a tight contest.
Those dates followed Biden’s surprise domination on Super Tuesday, which means it takes into account whatever consolidation took place just prior to those 15 primaries. The only major shift in these three states came in Wisconsin, where Trump will presumably do best in the blue-wall states; Biden bounced back from nine points down to less than two, well within the margin of error. Otherwise, Michigan and Pennsylvania barely shifted, and Trump still holds nominal leads in all three states:
Compare the relatively incremental movement for Biden in these polls to the dramatic shifts in Michigan and other states going to the polls tomorrow. Allahpundit provided a nice rundown on how fast and strong the Biden consolidation has been in this same period of time within the Democratic Party. It’s not translating outside of it at the moment, at least not in the most important states, and bear in mind that Team Trump had been aiming its fire mostly at Sanders and Bloomberg in the previous month. When Trump has an opportunity to hammer Biden, especially in those states, the bump may remain limited to Democrats in those states.
In fact, the collapse of Bernie Sanders might create problems for Biden on other points. New York Magazine took aim at Biden yesterday over his record on criminal justice, making an implicit argument that Biden might struggle in comparison to Trump on a key social-justice issue where Sanders might have done better:
Trump is going to try dampening black voter enthusiasm for Biden by contrasting the two men’s criminal justice records. The framing will be simple: Trump signed a bipartisan criminal-legal reform bill, the First Step Act, and has been generous with his pardon powers toward unjustly imprisoned black people, like Alice Marie Johnson. This was the essence of his Super Bowl reelection ad and much of his State of the Union address. His son-in-law-turned-adviser Jared Kushner maintains that such appeals will resonate with black voters, especially in upper midwestern swing states where the slightest chip in Democrat armor could cost them the region.
Indeed, conventional wisdom holds that because the system harms black Americans disproportionately, they are uniquely susceptible to reformist appeals from politicians. If this is true, it hasn’t been determinative in the 2020 primary: Kamala Harris was a punitive prosecutor in California and enjoyed higher rates of black support than nearly all of her former competitors who’ve since dropped out. Michael Bloomberg, the longtime “stop and frisk” proponent, briefly polled higher among black voters than Sanders. And Biden has been the consensus candidate of most black Democrats ever since he entered the race. But Trump’s is not a meritless strategy. It has the benefit of a soft target. The president’s use of pardons on people like Johnson may indeed be an opportunistic means of laundering his own efforts to get his friends out of prison. The First Step Act may have fallen into his lap because Mitch McConnell thwarted President Obama’s chance to sign a similar bill in 2016; his rhetoric on criminal justice may waffle between applauding second chances and touting the merits of executing people for selling drugs. But while Trump’s status as a self-styled reformer is laughable, Biden’s record is grotesque.
It won’t take much of a draw off of Biden’s African-American support to make it impossible for Biden to beat Trump. If the Left’s already talking about this, it might show that any forward momentum outside of primary contests will be limited at best.
Of course, right now we’re also dealing with a wildcard in the coronavirus outbreak. The doom and gloom has markets on the edge of panic and consumers staying home rather than traveling, and that economic impact could change the trajectory of the election. Firehouse/Optimus finds, however, that voters in these three blue-wall states approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis — thus far:
Coronavirus an emerging issue. We also asked voters about the coronavirus outbreak. A majority of likely voters in all three states are very or somewhat concerned about a large coronavirus outbreak (56% in MI; 56% in WI; 62.5% in PA). However, an overwhelming majority of likely voters aren’t changing any plans due to coronavirus just yet (MI: 79% are not changing plans; PA: 72.4%; WI:81%). Trump has net positive approval on his handling of coronavirus so far (MI: net 15.6 points; PA: 11.7 points; WI: 7.5 points) even despite his relatively low overall approval rating in those same states (MI: net +2.9 points; PA -4.5 points; WI: -4.5 points)
That in itself is impressive, given the hysterical media handling of the crisis — and Trump’s own contradictory statements and reckless tweets over it. If it gets significantly worse, Trump’s standing could be threatened. However, if this levels off and officials get a better handle on treatment and prevention, Trump could emerge unscathed or perhaps even strengthened in the crisis.