Battleground state poll shows Biden with persistent but surmountable leads

Outline maps of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania with title 2020 Election Survey and ERC logo
As voting gets underway in many states, Joe Biden remains ahead of Donald Trump in three key battleground states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – according to a poll by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Elections Research Center.

Biden earns support from approximately half of voters, a key threshold that Trump did not reach in any of the three states in 2016. Trump’s support is in the mid-40s, a close reflection of his job approval ratings among respondents, and within striking range of Biden. This represents a slight improvement for Trump compared to the previous ERC poll in August.

The survey reveals the different perspectives of Biden and Trump voters. Biden voters see the coronavirus pandemic as the most important issue facing the country. Trump voters prioritize the economy and rank the virus outbreak behind crime and on par with health care.

Most voters are hearing directly from the campaigns, but Biden supporters are contacted most by electronic means while Trump voters are more likely to receive mailings. Although there are differences across states, Trump voters strongly prefer voting in person while Biden voters favor voting by mail.

These findings are from the third set of 2020 battleground surveys from the Elections Research Center. The poll in Wisconsin is conducted in collaboration with the Wisconsin State Journal. Interviews were conducted between Sept. 10 and Sept. 21.

General Election Matchups

Biden bests Trump in all three states among respondents who are registered to vote. Trump trails by 8 points in Michigan but by only 5 points in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Vote Intention (Registered Voters)


Unlike in August, Biden’s lead actually narrows when limiting the focus to “likely” voters, defined as registered voters who also report that they are “certain” to vote. Biden remains near the 50% mark in all three states, but Trump narrows the gap among this key group of respondents. None of these differences between the candidates is statistically significant.

Vote Intention (Likely Voters)


In the wake of the national party conventions, voters in all three states appear to be making up their minds. Compared to the August survey, more respondents affirmatively select one of the major party candidates rather than saying they were not sure or planned to vote for a minor party candidate.

The survey is part of a panel study in which the same respondents who participated in the prior survey fielded from July 27 to Aug. 6 were reinterviewed in September. Their vote choices between the two waves are extremely stable, with only a handful of respondents shifting between the candidates.

Comparing the previous survey to this one shows that Trump’s slight improvement in the head-to-head contest with Biden is mostly the result of gaining the support of independent voters. This may reflect a small bounce coming out of the Republican convention or Trump’s response to the violence in Kenosha following the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Shifts Among Demographic Groups (Likely Voters)

High school or less45%51%44%52%
Some college50%46%49%46%
College grad and beyond60%34%58%37%

Reasons for Vote Choices

Biden and Trump voters see the country’s challenges quite differently. Likely voters were given a list of 11 topics and asked which was the “most important issue facing the country.” Nearly half of Biden voters selected the pandemic as the top issue. The traditional Democratic issues of health care, climate change, and inequality were named as most important by 12% to 14% of Biden voters.

In contrast, Trump voters named the economy as most important, crime as second, and the coronavirus pandemic much lower at just 13%. Before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump voters were somewhat more likely than Biden voters to see Supreme Court appointments as the most important issue.

Most Important Issue Facing the Country (Likely Voters)

Biden VotersTrump Voters
Coronavirus outbreak47%13%
Health care12%4%
Climate change14%1%
Supreme Court appointments3%7%
Foreign affairs1%1%
Gun policy1%1%

Other Performance Indicators

Approval ratings of all three Democratic governors fell slightly since the August survey, although Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has more strong support than do Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.

Ratings of Trump’s overall performance remain exceptionally stable. About as many respondents “strongly disapprove” of Trump as those who “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of him.

Trump fares somewhat better when it comes to handling of the economy, where he is above water in all three states. There was a slight increase in the percentage of people who are satisfied with his handling of protests, although the majority continues to be dissatisfied.

Other Performance Indicators (Registered Voters)

Trump OverallStrongly Approve27%30%30%
Job HandlingSomewhat Approve15%15%14%
Somewhat Disapprove6%6%8%
Strongly Disapprove49%47%46%
Trump HandlingStrongly Approve32%34%35%
of EconomySomewhat Approve15%12%12%
Somewhat Disapprove8%11%12%
Strongly Disapprove41%39%38%
Trump HandlingSatisfied45%43%45%
of ProtestsDissatisfied55%57%55%
GovernorStrongly Approve34%24%16%
Overall JobSomewhat Approve20%25%32%
HandlingSomewhat Disapprove10%15%14%
Strongly Disapprove34%32%34%

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