There’s little doubt that former Vice President Joe Biden has the upperhand against President Donald Trump at this point. Biden has led in poll after poll nationally and in almost every poll in the core six battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).
Yet, while Biden has maintained advantage, Trump has one thing going for him: His position is no longer deteriorating. A look at the polls shows that even as coronavirus cases and deaths rise, Trump remains within striking distancing of Biden.
An Iowa poll out Wednesday from Monmouth University makes the point well. Trump comes in with 48% to Biden’s 45%, a 3-point margin and a result within the poll’s margin of error. Trump won Iowa by more than 9 points in 2016. That equates to a 6-point swing toward Biden from the 2016 result, which is good for the Democrat. However, that’s not better (and perhaps a touch worse) than you would have seen earlier this summer.
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A Des Moines Register poll from the state in early June gave Trump 44% to Biden’s 43%, another result within the margin of error. This poll, however, was a swing of 8 points from the 2016 result.
When you look at the average state poll that called cellphones, you see no sign that Trump is doing worse than in the early summer. In the average state poll in June, Biden outperformed Hillary Clinton’s margin by 8 points. The margin was 8 points since July as well. This would translate to a 10-point Biden lead nationally.
This is better than Biden was doing earlier in the year, when a similar exercise suggested he was up around 7 or 8 points nationally. Still, any momentum Biden seemed to have in June has stopped.
Essentially, Biden widened his advantage from May to June following the beginning of the protests after George Floyd’s killing in late May, and it’s not gotten worse for Trump since.
The national polling paints a similar picture. Biden’s margin widened at the end of May and beginning of June. Since then, Trump has held his ground.
Biden was ahead of Trump by 11 points in the average national poll that calls cell phones in June. The margin was exactly the same in July. Likewise, the average of all the other polls was an 8-point Biden advantage in June and an 8-point Biden edge in July.
Poll aggregators that take into account all of the data actually have Trump cutting his deficit from around 10 points to somewhere closer to 7 to 9 points. That’s better than where Biden was before June, but less than his peak.
The same trend can be seen in Trump’s overall job approval rating. He declined precipitously from April to June. The drop accelerated at the end of May.
Despite all of that, Trump’s approval rating among voters never dropped below 40% with voters in the average poll. Currently, Trump’s approval rating among voters is about 41% or 42%, depending on how you compute your average. His net approval rating, which went as low as below -15 points, is now closer to -12 or -13 points.
We’re not talking about a big improvement by any stretch. Rather, it’s that Trump’s position has stabilized and perhaps improved a few points.
Overall, pretty much every method agrees that Trump has, if nothing else, stopped the bleeding.
The fact that Trump’s standing hasn’t gotten any worse may come as a bit of a surprise given the rise of coronavirus cases and deaths nationally. Biden leads Trump by double-digits on who is more trusted to handle the virus, and the issue is a top one for voters.
The answer to this slight mystery may lie in the fact that issues surrounding race relations have faded from the news. Coverage of protests isn’t anywhere close to where it once was. And although voters don’t like Trump on coronavirus, they like him even less on race relations. So it isn’t shocking that Trump is holding or may have even gained a point.
That said, it’s tough to see how Trump could win if coronavirus is the big issue come voting time. As I’ve noted before, the candidate who leads on the big non-economic issue of the day pretty much always wins in elections not determined by the economy.
Still, the current difference between the polls at this point and the result isn’t wide enough to suggest Biden has this locked away given how much polls have moved from this point to the election historically. Yes, Biden has held a relatively steady lead, which makes him a clear favorite.
But in a year in which we are facing unprecedented circumstances, Trump is staying in the hunt.