October 12, 2020

Trump Defectors Help Biden Build Leads in Wisconsin and Michigan


New polls show Biden is gaining in the Northern battlegrounds among white voters.

Joe Biden leads Donald J. Trump in Michigan and Wisconsin. Mr. Biden’s polling leads in both states would currently withstand a 2016-size polling miss.

2016 Election Result
Oct. 2020
Michigan (n=614)<1 Trump+8 Biden48-40
Wisconsin (789)<1 Trump+10 Biden51-41
Based on New York Times/Siena College polls of 789 likely voters in Wisconsin from Oct. 8 to Oct. 11 and 614 likely voters in Michigan from Oct. 6 to Oct. 11.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. holds a significant lead in the pivotal states of Michigan and Wisconsin, with President Trump so far failing to retain the overwhelming advantage he enjoyed among white voters there in 2016, according to surveys from The New York Times and Siena College on Monday.

Over all, Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump by eight percentage points in Michigan, 48 percent to 40 percent, among likely voters. His lead in Wisconsin was slightly larger, 51 percent to 41 percent.

The new results, along with recent Times/Siena surveys from elsewhere in the Northern battlegrounds, suggest that the president has not yet managed to reassemble his winning coalition across the region. He faces modest but significant defections among white and independent voters, while facing a groundswell of opposition from those who voted for a minor-party candidate or didn’t vote at all in 2016.

The president’s path to re-election is narrow if he doesn’t win either Wisconsin or Michigan. If Mr. Biden puts those two states in his column, along with the states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, he will hold 258 electoral votes, putting him on the doorstep of the 270 needed to win.

Nonetheless, the Trump campaign appears to recognize that the two states no longer represent his likeliest path to re-election. Over the last month, the campaign has reduced its television ad spending in the two states in favor of an apparent push to sweep Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania, where Times/Siena surveys conducted since the first debate show the president trailing by somewhat narrower but still significant five-to-eight-point margins.

Four years ago, Mr. Trump’s strength among white voters without a college degree helped him breach the so-called blue wall of traditionally Democratic Northern battleground states, including Michigan and Wisconsin. The new surveys show him well short of matching 2016 levels of support among white voters, leaving the president with a daunting deficit with just three weeks until the election.

Over all, Mr. Biden leads by eight points among white voters in Wisconsin and trails by just one percentage point among white voters in Michigan.

While Mr. Trump’s surprising victory in 2016 lent him an aura of political invincibility, an Upshot analysis of more than 5,000 respondents to Times/Siena results surveys in the Northern battleground states suggests that his winning coalition was always a fragile one. The president’s margin of victory was extremely narrow, and he failed to reach 50 percent of the vote in each of the decisive states. He also did so against an unusually unpopular opponent, Mrs. Clinton.

In the years after her defeat, Democrats agonized over whether their best path to the presidency was to lure back the white, working-class voters who’d defected to the president, or to increase turnout among Democratic voters who may have stayed home or supported minor-party candidates like Jill Stein. The Times/Siena surveys suggest that Mr. Biden is succeeding on both fronts, by at once peeling off a modest but crucial sliver of the president’s former supporters and benefiting from a significant advantage among voters who either backed a minor-party candidate four years ago or didn’t vote at all.

Over all, recent Times/Siena respondents in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio indicate that they backed Mr. Trump by a 2.6-point margin in 2016, the same as his actual 2.6-point margin of victory across the Northern battlegrounds. Now, they back Mr. Biden across all six states.

So far, we’ve talked to 5,556 voters in six Northern battleground states.

Each dot represents a voter we’ve talked to since September

These respondents said they voted for President Trump in 2016 by three points.

Whom these voters chose in 2016 (if they voted)
2016 vote Trump +3


2016 vote
Trump +3

… vote switchers 4% of 2016 voters
Biden +43

Now it’s …
Biden +3

People who have switched sides since 2016 make up less than 4 percent of registered voters. But they effectively pack twice the punch of other voters, as they have both deducted a vote from their former preferred candidate and added one to the candidate they now support. Alone, these switches would be enough to give Mr. Biden a fairly comfortable victory, even without any change in the composition of the electorate or in the attitudes of voters who back a minor-party candidate.

Although the sample is small, the president’s Midwestern defectors appear to be surprisingly representative of his supporters over all, at least demographically. They are only slightly likelier to be women, college graduates or suburbanites.

Mr. Biden also holds a significant lead among respondents who say they backed a minor-party candidate, like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.

Those who say they voted for minor-party candidates in 2016 have broken by 34 points to Mr. Biden.

2020 vote preference among voters who backed minor-party candidates in 2016

2016 voteTrump +3
… vote switchers 4% of 2016 votersBiden +43
… minor-party flips 6% of 2016 votersBiden +34
Now it’s …Biden +5

Mr. Biden’s lead is largest among the former supporters of Ms. Stein, who say they back him, 59-9.

Mr. Biden’s lead among the former supporters of Mr. Johnson is smaller, 38 percent to 14 percent, with this year’s Libertarian nominee, Jo Jorgensen, winning 29 percent of their support.

Mr. Biden’s lead would expand further to seven points if registered voters who didn’t vote in 2016 turned out. Of course, not everyone will vote in the end, but he holds a 48-34 lead among this group.

Nonvoters in 2016 — either those who stayed home or were too young to vote — are breaking to Mr. Biden by 14 points. If all of them voted, Mr. Biden’s lead would be seven points.

2020 vote preference among all 2016 nonvoters

2016 voteTrump +3
… vote switchers 4% of 2016 votersBiden +43
… minor-party flips 6% of 2016 votersBiden +34
+2016 nonvotersBiden +14
Now it’s …Biden +7

Put it together, and Mr. Biden leads by six points across the Midwestern battlegrounds, a significant improvement over Mrs. Clinton’s nearly three-point deficit across the region four years ago. It’s almost exactly the same as Barack Obama’s six-point victory in the same states in 2012.

Our current estimate of these six battleground states: Mr. Biden leads by six points.

2020 vote preference among likely 2020 voters

2016 voteTrump +3
… vote switchers 4% of 2016 votersBiden +43
… minor-party flips 6% of 2016 votersBiden +34
+2016 nonvotersBiden +14
2020 nonvotersBiden +10
Now it’s …Biden +6

But while the results seem to represent a restoration of the traditional Democratic coalition in the Midwest, a closer analysis reveals that the president’s breakthrough victory in the region four years ago has had a lasting effect on the region’s partisan loyalties and political geography.

Unlike in 2012, self-identified Republicans now outnumber Democrats in Times/Siena polls of Wisconsin, Michigan and even Pennsylvania, where the Democratic registration advantage remains significant but has dwindled in recent months.

Instead, Mr. Biden leads with an overwhelming advantage among independent voters, who back him by 20 percentage points in both states.

And though Mr. Biden’s gains among white voters are broad, spanning both those with and without a college degree, he fares far better than Mr. Obama did among white college graduates, while faring worse among those without a four-year degree. As a result, Mr. Biden still trails narrowly in the precincts that flipped from Mr. Obama to Mr. Trump, while holding an overwhelming advantage in the smaller number of predominantly suburban precincts that backed Mitt Romney in 2012 and then supported Mrs. Clinton in 2016.

In Michigan, Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat, faces a surprisingly strong challenge from John James, a graduate of West Point who is considered one of the Republicans’ top recruits of the cycle. Mr. Peters leads by just one percentage point, 43 percent to 42 percent, among likely voters, a significant narrowing of the race since a Times/Siena survey in June that found Mr. Peters leading, 41-31.

The relatively high number of undecided voters reflects the relatively low profile of the two candidates. Around 20 percent of voters do not have an opinion on either of them. Mr. James’s favorability ratings have increased to 45 percent favorable versus 35 percent unfavorable, up from 36 percent favorable and 29 percent unfavorable in the June survey. Part of Mr. Peters’s weakness is that he has thus far failed to match Mr. Biden’s tallies among nonwhite voters, who disproportionately remain undecided. It remains to be seen whether Mr. James, who is Black, will ultimately make significant inroads among these voters.

A closely fought race in Michigan complicates the Democratic path to flipping control of the Senate, which has looked increasingly plausible as several Senate Republican incumbents have fared worse than the president in surveys. Yet here it is the incumbent Democrat faring worse than Mr. Biden, and a Republican win in Michigan would force Democrats to pick up a win in a state that Mr. Trump won comfortably in 2016, like Iowa or Montana, to win Senate control.

Public opinion polls have been remarkably stable this year, through the pandemic, the economic crisis and social unrest. The surveys of Wisconsin and Michigan were conducted during another tumultuous week in the campaign, and they offered little indication that any of the news had worked to the president’s favor.

The surveys began after Mr. Trump was released from the hospital, and there was no immediate indication that his political standing recovered along with his health. Most voters in Wisconsin and Michigan expected that the president would recover quickly from the illness, echoing findings from Times/Siena surveys fielded while he was hospitalized. The president did not appear poised to benefit from the public’s sympathy; by at least a two-to-one margin in both states, voters said the president did not take adequate precautions to protect against the coronavirus.

The survey in Wisconsin was conducted entirely after the vice-presidential debate, and attitudes about it fell along predictable partisan lines. Mr. Biden’s supporters said Senator Kamala Harris won, 73 percent to 3 percent, while Mr. Trump’s supporters said Vice President Mike Pence won by a nearly identical margin of 74-2. Over all, voters thought Ms. Harris defeated Mr. Pence in the debate, 40 percent to 33 percent, with her advantage appearing to reflect little more than Mr. Biden’s overall advantage in the presidential race.

The Wisconsin survey was also conducted entirely after the president announced he would not participate in the virtual town hall debate proposed by the presidential debate commission. Wisconsin voters said they supported the proposed virtual town hall format, 58 percent to 34 percent, and said Mr. Trump should have decided to participate in the debate, 70 percent to 21 percent.

This week, the president might be on firmer political ground; the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court have begun. A plurality of voters in both states said they supported her nomination and thought the Senate should act on it before the election.

Source: The New York Times

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