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Politico/Morning Consult poll: Americans prefer Trump to Biden in the COVID-19 crisis

American voters actually prefer Barack Obama to either presidential contender in the COVID-19 crisis, the new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows, but that’s a non-sequitur. They might just as well have asked about Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Santa Claus, none of whom present real options to voters. Between the two options they will have, however, Donald Trump earns a plurality and an eight-point lead over Joe Biden:

Voters believe former President Barack Obama would be a better leader than President Donald Trump amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday.

But of 1,990 participants in the survey, a plurality said Trump would be better than former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic presidential candidate.

When asked who would be a better leader during the outbreak, 52 percent of voters said Obama would be better during the crisis, compared with 38 percent who said Trump would be the stronger of the two leaders. Ten percent did not have an opinion.

By an 8-point margin, more voters picked Trump (44 percent) as a better leader during the crisis than Biden (36 percent), though voters were split evenly in the survey when asked whom they would trust to handle the issue.

So much for Biden reflecting Obama’s glory for Democrats. Not only does Biden rank 16 points below his old boss — or more accurately, the beatific theoretical of his old boss — but Trump picks up six points just by getting Obama out of the way. Even with media giving Biden as much oxygen as they possibly can and going after Trump tooth and nail, only slightly more than a third of voters trust Biden in a serious crisis — and nearly half prefer Trump.

One has to wonder just how voters would have answered this question one month ago. At that time, Trump was trying to downplay the threat from the coronavirus outbreak and hadn’t begun doing his daily briefings. His shift in both tone and practice to active leadership in this crisis has once again proven the value of the “bully pulpit,” and restored that advantage of incumbency in this election. Trump looks and acts like a leader; Biden, in contrast, looks like a part-time analyst commenting from the sidelines.

At the moment, though, that’s not necessarily helping Trump’s re-election chances. The same poll shows 41% planning to vote for Trump and 50% planning to vote for someone else. Among those definite about their selection, it goes to 31/44. Voters might not make up their minds based on Trump’s crisis leadership; indeed, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that most people have already made up their mind about Trump.

That’s not to say that voters aren’t entirely opposed to Trump. Even in comparison shopping, voters prefer Trump to Biden on key issues, such as the economy (44/37), jobs (44/38), and national security (43/39). Voters even give Trump a slight edge on immigration, surprisingly (42/41). Biden leads in the other traditional Democratic policy strengths, but not by the wide margins one might expect:

  • Health care: Biden 44/36
  • Energy: 42/38
  • Education: 43/35
  • Environment: 47/31
  • Social Security/Medicare: 45/35
  • Guns: 40/40

Note well that Biden doesn’t get to 50% on any of these issue questions, even on the environment where Trump only scores 31%. Also, while these issues will get some play in the upcoming election, the main issues will be the economy, jobs, and crisis management — all of which play into Trump’s current strengths.

And that brings us to the vote-planning question. That doesn’t specify Trump’s opponent, but only asks whether the respondents choose to vote for or against Trump. That’s a false choice, however; the choice will be to vote for Trump or to vote for Biden, or to vote for a third-party candidate or not at all.  Looking at the totality of responses in this poll, it’s tough to see where Biden gets enough support to overcome Trump’s advantages — for now, anyway.

Addendum: The most recent Zogby poll also shows an advantage for Trump in crisis management, with this survey focused on swing-state voters:

Several groups of “important swing voters… all thought Trump was in better shape and had more acumen to head-off the coronavirus pandemic,” Zogby reports. Notably, both union members and urban men prefer Trump over Biden by more than ten percentage points.

Important swing voters:

  • Union members (Trump 58%/Biden 42%),
  • Urban men (Trump 55%/Biden 45%),
  • Weekly Walmart shoppers (Trump 57%/Biden 43%),
  • Weekly Amazon shoppers (Trump 60%/Biden 40%),
  • NASCAR fans (Trump 70%/Biden 30%),
  • Suburban men (Trump 56%/Biden 44%), and
  • Rural voters (Trump 64%/Biden 36%)

“Some of the most vulnerable voters, such as those who lost a job recently, also favored Trump (Trump 65%/Biden 35%),” Zogby reports.

I’m not a big fan of the Zogby poll, but YMMV.