Last week, on behalf of Newsweek, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies also conducted among 1,700 registered voters living in ‘swing counties’—counties across the United States which were won by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and by Donald Trump in 2016. Due to the tendency of these counties to back the eventual winner, polling the local public in these areas provides valuable insight into how the 2020 Election may unfold.

Thinking About Four Years Ago

Among respondents from the swing counties who voted in the 2016 Presidential Election, the overwhelming majority (79%) said they would not change how they voted. 12% said they would change how they voted, and a further 9% do not know whether they would or would not change their vote. 13% of those who voted for President Trump in 2016 say they would change how they voted, while 8% of voters who backed Hillary Clinton four years ago also say they would switch their decision.

Among those who did not vote four years ago (but were eligible), only 22% say they would change their decision not to vote, while 36% would not act differently. A plurality (42%) don’t know if they would change their decision to not vote, showcasing a sustained high degree of apathy within this group.

In the swing countiesaround a third (32%) say they are better off now than they were four years ago, while another third (31%) think they are in about the same position as 2016. Significantly, only around a quarter (26%) of all respondents in these counties think they are worse off now than four years ago.

A majority (55%) of those who will vote for Donald Trump feel ‘better off’ than four years ago, while almost a fifth (18%) of likely Joe Biden supporters also hold this view. However, a plurality (41%) of those likely to vote for the Democratic nominee feel ‘worse off’, compared to 13% of Donald Trump voters.

Interestingly, those with a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to feel ‘worse off’ (34%) than ‘better off’ (28%). By contrast, a plurality (34%) of those who did not graduate high school or who graduated from high school yet did not complete a bachelor’s degree  consider themselves ‘better off,’ while less than a quarter (23%) say they are ‘worse off.’

There is a clear partisan dimension at work here. After all, our question directly asks respondents to make a comparison to what their lives were like before the last election. Among those who consider themselves ‘better off’ than they were in 2019, 59% believe the policies of President Donald Trump were a factor which contributed to an improvement in their life. Around a third (34%) say that the President’s policies were not a factor.

Among those who consider themselves ‘worse off’ than in 2016, 59% view the policies of President Donald Trump as a factor which contributed to the deterioration of their quality of life. Less than a third (31%) say that the President’s policies were not a factor.

Among respondents who live in the same county as they did in 2016, a plurality (41%) believe their county is about the same now as it was four years ago. Meanwhile, 30% say their county is ‘worse off’, and less than a quarter (23%) consider that their county is ‘better off’.

A fifth (19%) of those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 consider that their county is ‘worse off’ than when he took office as President, yet 42% say it is ‘better off’. A further 36% of Trump’s 2016 voters think their area is about the same. Among 2016 Hillary Clinton voters, only 8% think their county is ‘better off’, 42% think it is the same, and almost half (48%) say it is ‘worse off’.

The overwhelming majority (79%) of those who think their local area has improved since 2016 think that President Donald Trump is somewhat responsible for this improvement, whereas only 14% say that the President’s policies did not contribute to the improvement of their local area.

Meanwhile, 58% of those who say their local area has declined to think Donald Trump’s policies contributed to this deterioration, while a significant minority (30%) do not hold the President responsible.

Turning to the state of the nation, a majority (53%) of respondents in the swing counties say the United States as a whole is ‘worse off’ now than it was four years ago. Less than a quarter (23%) think the country is ‘better off’, while 12% consider the nation is about the same as in 2016. A further 13% don’t know. Beyond political preference, however, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on these figures must be acknowledged.

Responses to this question are somewhat partisan, yet the optimism of Donald Trump supporters regarding the country’s current trajectory is substantially outweighed by the pessimism of Joe Biden voters. For example, while most Donald Trump voters (52%) think the country is ‘better off’, an overwhelming majority (85%) of those likely to vote for Joe Biden say the country is ‘worse off‘. Furthermore, more than a fifth (22%) of likely Donald Trump voters say the country is ‘worse off’, compared to just 4% of likely Joe Biden supporters who think the country is ‘better off’.

Among those who think the United States has improved in the last four years, the overwhelming majority (88%) think that the policies of President Trump have contributed to this improvement. Just 9% think they have not.

Meanwhile, a strong majority (69%) of those who think the United States has deteriorated since 2016 place a degree of blame on the policies of President Trump. yet over a fifth (22%) do not think the President is to blame.

Voting Intention

While 63% of respondents think they are personally ‘better off’ (or in the same position) as four years ago, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by 6% in the swing counties, a result which highlights that many Americans are deciding their vote for reasons other than their own personal circumstances.

Although Joe Biden holds a clear lead in overall voting intention, our poll also provides evidence which suggests that the race in the swing counties may be closer than it initially appears. For example, 57% of Donald Trump voters are ‘very enthusiastic’ about voting in this election, compared to 52% of likely Joe Biden voters. Indeed, a tenth (10%) of likely Joe Biden voters are ‘not at all enthusiastic’ about voting, in contrast to 6% of likely Donald Trump voters.

Moreover, despite Joe Biden’s clear lead in voting intention, a majority (51%) think that most of their neighbors and the people living in their local area are voting for Donald Trump. Just 37% think their neighbors are primarily backing Joe Biden. This finding provides further evidence that those voting to re-elect the incumbent President are more enthused about his candidacy than likely Joe Biden voters, and therefore turnout may be higher among Donald Trump’s base.

Early Voting

In the swing counties, 63% say they have already voted or are certain to vote. With just over a week to go until Election Day, around a quarter (24%) have already voted. 39% of those voting for Joe Biden have already voted, compared to 22% of those who are voting for Donald Trump.

Around a third (31%) of likely Joe Biden voters intend to vote in person on Election Day, compared to 46% who say they will vote by mail (absentee ballot). By contrast, 56% of likely Donald Trump voters will vote in person, on Election Day, and only 21% will vote by mail. A similar proportion of each candidate’s supporters will vote in person, prior to Election Day.

Among those voting by mail, 70% have sent their completed and signed ballot to their county’s Board of Elections. Notably, 10% of those who intend to vote by mail have not yet requested their ballot. A further 6% have requested their ballot but have not yet received it in the mail, and 14% have received their ballot but are yet to complete it or send it to their county’s Board of Elections.

81% of those who intend to vote for Joe Biden via mail-in ballot have sent off their completed and signed ballot, compared to 76% of likely Donald Trump supporters who say they will vote using the absentee ballot method.

Record early voting figures this year come at a time when those voting for the Democratic nominee tend to feel particularly uncomfortable voting in-person given the ongoing coronavirus situation. Overall, a third (32%) of likely Joe Biden voters feel uncomfortable casting their ballot in person, compared to just 10% of likely Donald Trump voters. Although most of those who would feel uncomfortable voting in person are likely to have cast their ballot by mail, 9% of those in the swing counties who would feel uncomfortable voting in person also say they intend to cast their ballot on election day.

Key Policy Areas and Voter Alignment

Over two-thirds (68%) of swing county voters  say they are most likely to decide their vote based on two issues: the economy (40%) and healthcare (28%). Likely Donald Trump supporters place an overwhelming degree of importance on economic issues: 61% of those voting to re-elect the incumbent say this policy area has determined how they will vote in November. By contrast, a clear plurality (40%) of likely Joe Biden voters will vote based on healthcare issues.  

The coronavirus pandemic remains the central challenge facing the United States as the election approaches. A clear plurality (40%) say they are less likely to vote for Donald Trump due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Only around a quarter (26%) are more likely to vote for him due to his leadership during the coronavirus crisis, while 27% are neither more nor less likely to vote for him.

Among those who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election, 15% are less likely to vote for him as a result of his handling of the pandemic, although a majority (51%) of those who supported him last time say it makes them more likely.

Ultimately, although most respondents in the swing counties say they have not experienced a deterioration in their personal circumstances during Donald Trump’s presidency (and many have seen an improvement), a majority say the United States as a whole has declined in the last four years. Indeed, it is likely that the public’s perspective about the overall trajectory of the nation is a key contributory factor to Joe Biden’s clear overall lead in voting intention in the swing counties. Nevertheless, greater enthusiasm among Donald Trump voters is likely to narrow the race in these crucial counties.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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