Coronavirus Strengthens Political Divide in Swing States

September 11, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Arizona | Coronavirus | Coronavirus Lockdown Measures | Coronavirus Restrictions | Democratic Party | Donald Trump | Florida | Joe Biden | Michigan | North Carolina | Pennsylvannia | Republican Party | Swing States | Wisconsin

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During a Labor Day press conference on Monday, President Trump claimed that a coronavirus vaccine could be delivered “during the month of October,” ahead of the Presidential election. In response, Democratic contender Joe Biden questioned the President’s credibility, and said he will trust scientists rather than the White House on the issue, prompting accusations by Trump of anti-vaccine rhetoric. Clashes over a potential Covid-19 vaccine are the latest example of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic fuelling political debate, a trend highlighted by our recent research. In swing states, in particular, perceptions of the ongoing pandemic may well determine November’s outcome.

Our latest poll found that across all six states, respondents are increasingly less likely to feel that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come. For instance, at this stage, 43% of Wisconsinites felt that the worst is yet to come, compared to a clear majority (58%) in July. Indeed, a strong plurality of voters in Arizona (45%), Florida (41%), Michigan (44%), and Pennsylvania (40%) feel that the worst of the pandemic is behind their state. Likewise, in North Carolina and Wisconsin, a  plurality (34-35%) feel that the worst is behind them.

Those who say they will vote for Joe Biden are significantly more likely to feel that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come than likely Donald Trump voters. In Republican-run Arizona, in particular, a large majority (62%) of likely Biden voters feel that the worst is yet to come, compared to just 14% of likely Trump voters.

Our recent polling in Arizona – one of the country’s hotspots with 42 cases per 100.000 – points to a tight race between the candidates. President Trump has highlighted his support for Republican Governor Doug Ducey, praising him as a model for the country to emulate. Despite the President’s endorsement, Ducey’s approval ratings have declined by three-points since our August poll, from 32% who approve of his handling of the pandemic last month to 29% in September.

Across all six states, a plurality or majority (41%-50%) of respondents believe that the situation in the US as a whole is not coming under control.

Again, responses followed partisan affiliation. Trump voters were significantly more likely to express their optimism about the coronavirus situation in the US as a whole (50-73% think the situation is coming under control) than likely Biden voters (8-23% think the situation is coming under control).

Our research highlights that a majority of respondents in Michigan (51%), North Carolina (53%) and Florida (54%) would support the imposition of a nationwide shutdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic in the future. A significant plurality of respondents in Pennsylvania (49%), Arizona (48%) and Wisconsin (44%) would also support such a measure.

In Republican-run Florida, likely Trump voters were more likely (37%) to support a potential shutdown than in any of the other swing states. Florida, the largest swing state by electoral weight, currently has the highest rate of coronavirus infections in the country.

In 2016, Trump won Florida by just over a percentage point. Aware that a victory in the state is key for his re-election hopes, the President has applauded Republican Governor DeSantis throughout the pandemic. In Florida, Trump’s continued endorsement of DeSantis may have had a positive effect, as the proportion of Floridians who disapprove of Governor DeSantis’ handling of the coronavirus has dropped from 48% in August to 41% at this stage.

Florida was also the swing state where likely Trump voters were the most likely to agree that the coronavirus crisis will be over in a year’s time (67%), a feeling shared by a significant plurality of overall respondents in Arizona (44%), North Carolina (42%) and Wisconsin (41%).

Our poll indicates that a majority of Michiganders (50%) and a strong plurality of Wisconsinites (47%), Floridians (45%) and Arizonians (44%) think that Joe Biden is more likely to do the most to see an end to the coronavirus pandemic. A plurality of Pennsylvanians (43%) and North Carolinians (41%) also agree that Biden will do the most. By contrast, roughly a third of respondents across the six swing states (31%-37%) think that Donald Trump is more likely to do the most to end the pandemic.

Notably, a plurality (40-49%) of the swing state public think that, had he been President, Joe Biden would have handled the coronavirus crisis better. By contrast, between 27%-38% of respondents in swing states think that Biden would have handled the situation worse. These results are aligned with our recent US-wide poll, which found that 45% think that Joe Biden would have handled the pandemic better against 26% who believed he would have handled it worse.

Although more respondents believe Biden would have handled the pandemic better than Trump, our findings also indicate that a plurality of respondents in Pennsylvania (46%), North Carolina (47%), Florida (46%) and Wisconsin (45%) think that President Trump is not to blame for the damage to the US economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, in Michigan and Arizona, a plurality (47-48%) of respondents blame the President for the damage induced on the economy by the pandemic.

The President, who has attempted to focus on economic issues in the campaign, could interpret results in Michigan and Arizona as potential bad news. At the same time, research conducted by us in August pointed to growing optimism amongst the American public about the future of the economy.

As the United States records the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, a large portion of respondents across all six swing states are bracing for the worst of the pandemic and have accepted the possibility of a new national shutdown. As in our previous polling, these findings highlight the politicisation of the coronavirus crisis: likely Biden voters are much more likely to express their pessimism about the future of both their state and the country as a whole than likely Trump voters.

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. Follow us on Twitter

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