New surveys in three key battleground states show former Vice President Joe Biden with solid leads over President Donald Trump as both candidates head into their nominating conventions later this month.
Biden’s advantage in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is largely the result of consolidating the Democratic vote and attracting support from voters who supported minor party candidates or did not vote in 2016. Since February, previously undecided voters have shifted in Biden’s direction, and views surrounding Trump’s handling of both the coronavirus and protests over policing are closely tied to vote choice. Trump’s struggle is partly due to his weaker position among white voters than was seen in his victory four years ago.
These findings are from the second of several 2020 battleground surveys from the Elections Research Center at UW-Madison. The poll in Wisconsin is conducted in collaboration with the Wisconsin State Journal. Interviews were conducted between July 27 and August 6.
“All three states remain battlegrounds that should not be ignored by either campaign,” said Barry Burden, political science professor and director of the ERC. “Biden is well positioned to win all three states because of his strength with core Democratic constituencies and because of negative views of Trump’s handling of both the pandemic and protests.”
General Election Matchups
Biden leads Trump in all three states among respondents who are registered to vote. His lead is more commanding in Pennsylvania and somewhat less sizable in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Biden’s lead is even larger when limiting the analysis to only registered voters who say they are “certain” to vote. Among them, Biden leads by five points in Michigan (50-45), ten in Pennsylvania (52-42), and eight in Wisconsin (52-44).
A potential comeback for Trump over the next three months would potentially look different in Wisconsin than in the other two states. While partisan identifiers overwhelmingly support their candidates with more than 90 percent support across all three states, Biden’s lead in Michigan and Pennsylvania is primarily the result of Democrats outnumbering Republicans and independents being more closely divided. In Wisconsin partisan identifiers are essentially equal in size but independents give Biden the edge.
Voters’ choices continue to be related to their levels of educational attainment. Voters with no college background are the most supportive of Trump whereas people with college degrees are overwhelmingly for Biden. This pattern remains true within each of the three states.
|High School or Less||Some College||College Degree||Post-Graduate|
Trump appears to be faring best among the oldest voters, in contrasts to some other recent surveys. His support among young voters is much lower, losing by a two-to-one ratio. These differences in levels of support between young and old also exist within all three states. This pattern suggests that relative voter turnout between the youngest and oldest voters will have an important effect on the election outcome.
|Age 18-29||Age 30-45||Age 45-64||Age 65+|
A gender gap exists across all three states that works to Biden’s advantage. Trump leads among men by just a few points whereas Biden is leading among women by double digits.
Trump has less support among white voters than he did in 2016. While non-white voters, especially Black voters, overwhelmingly support Biden as they did Clinton in 2016, white voters are more evenly divided. White registered voters in our sample say that they favored Trump over Clinton by seven points, yet this time around they are essentially evenly split between Biden and Trump. Trump’s victory in 2016 was closely linked to winning white voters by large margins, and it appears that he will need to win some of them back this November to prevail in these key battleground states.
Reasons for Vote Choices
Vote choices are closely linked to views about the coronavirus and protests over policing.
Respondents were asked whether they were more concerned about how the coronavirus crisis is affecting the economy or how it is affecting public health. Slightly more people in the full sample emphasize health (55%) over the economy (45%). Those most concerned about health support Biden 78-12, while those concerned about the economy support Trump 80-13.
When asked who they blame for the spread of the virus, 41% of respondents picked President Trump, 35% picked China, and 13% pointed to public health agencies, other parties of government, or businesses and other groups. Almost no registered voters who blame Trump for the spread intend to vote for him (they split for Biden 94-1) but those who blame China mostly support Trump (86-7), as do those who blame public health agencies or other government bodies.
The majority of respondents say they are “dissatisfied” with how Trump has handled protests over the death of George Floyd. Registered voters satisfied with his handling plan to vote for Trump 89-4, but the larger group who are dissatisfied are voting for Biden 83-6.
|Trump Job||Strongly Approve||26%||29%||28%|
|Governor Job||Strongly Approve||35%||25%||20%|
Respondents were also asked to pick the “main reason” why they support their candidates, using a list of seven options. Voters say they are largely drawn to Trump because of his positions on the issues and to a lesser degree because of his record and uniqueness as a politician. Biden’s backers also like their candidate’s positions, but support him just as much because he can beat Trump and because of his values.
|He Can Beat Biden/Trump||24%||3%|
|His Positions on Issues||29%||40%|
|His Political Style||4%||3%|
|He is a Different Kind of Politician||5%||22%|
Method of Voting
Respondents were asked whether they were “more likely” to vote by mail or in person in the presidential election this fall. Among registered voters, 45 percent indicate they intended to vote by mail while 55% plan to vote in person.
Among the three states, voting by mail is of greatest interest in Michigan whereas a clear majority of Pennsylvania registrants plan to vote in person. There are clear partisan differences, with two-thirds of Democrats leaning toward voting by mail and four out of five Republicans saying they are likely to vote in person. Contrary to some reports, Black voters are the racial group most likely to say they intend to vote by mail. Men and urban voters are also much more likely to favor voting by mail than are women and residents of small towns and rural areas.
Change Over Time
The latest ERC survey is a panel study that involved re-interviewing the same respondents who participated in the previous ERC survey in February, before the pandemic and protests over policing.
Comparing responses over time reveals that the primary shift is among previously undecided voters. Approximately 95 percent of people who planned to vote for Biden or Trump in February continue to support the same candidates today, but those who indicated they would support neither candidate have moved in Biden’s direction.
Looking back further to 2016, Trump is winning 90 percent of those who voted for him four years ago and Biden is winning 92 percent of those who voted for Clinton. The difference maker is that Biden is winning a majority of those who did not vote in 2016 or voted for minor party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
More About the Survey
This is the second of several surveys in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that will be conducted during the 2020 election season by the ERC in partnership with the Wisconsin State Journal for all polling done in Wisconsin.
Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all voted for Democratic presidential candidates going back to the 1980s but flipped to the Republicans in 2016 to help President Donald Trump win the Electoral College.
Surveys of voting age adults were conducted by YouGov under the direction of the ERC. YouGov is a leading marketing and polling firm that conducts surveys for news outlets such as CBS News, the Economist, and the Huffington Post. Interviews were conducted online with respondents selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel. The sample was selected and weighted to reflect the adult population in each state based on gender, age, race, and education.
800 respondents were surveyed in each of the three states. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 5.05 percent in Michigan, 4.85 percent in Pennsylvania, and 4.86 percent in Wisconsin.
More analysis about the poll and results from the February survey are available on the Elections Research Center’s web site.
Experts from the Elections Research Center are available for analysis of the survey.