A month ago, Redfield & Wilton Strategies began conducting polls of registered voters in six key swing states for the 2020 Presidential Election: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These six swing states were all won by Donald Trump in 2016, prior to which Barack Obama had also won all except Arizona in both 2008 and 2012 and North Carolina in 2012. Our polls last month in these six states found Joe Biden leading in all six states by margins ranging from 2% in Florida and North Carolina to 10% in Wisconsin.
A month later, we polled these six states again and found that Joe Biden continues to lead in all six swing states, and he has made marginal gains in Florida and North Carolina. The new margins range from 4% in Florida to 11% in Michigan. It is worth noting, too, that this edition of our swing state polls was the first where we prompted the presumptive nominees from the Libertarian and Green Parties as options for respondents.
Our polls find Joe Biden with a slightly increased lead over Donald Trump from 2% in Florida and North Carolina in May to 4% in Florida and 6% in North Carolina this month. Likewise, Biden has increased his lead over Trump in Michigan from 8% to 11%, and in Pennsylvania from 9% to 10%, and maintained his 4% lead in Arizona. On the other hand, Biden’s lead in Wisconsin fell slightly from 10% to 9%. These differences all fall within the Margins of Error, such that while the President lost significant ground in our national poll earlier this month, we are hesitant to say the picture has substantively changed in these six swing states.
At this moment, it appears that this election is being framed primarily as a referendum on President Trump rather than as a contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Likely voters for Joe Biden in all six states more frequently reported their primary reason for voting for Biden as their lack of support for Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, likely voters for Donald Trump were significantly more likely to cite their reason for voting for their candidate as stemming from support for their candidate rather than opposition to their candidate’s opponent.
Across the six swing states, the economy continues to be the key policy area that most respondents said will determine how they will vote in the November Presidential Election. However, whereas a month ago roughly 40% of respondents in each of the six states said the economy would be the deciding issue for them, this proportion has now fallen to 27% to 31% across five of the states, and as low as 24% in Wisconsin. Instead, a new issue has now become the main one in the minds of 9% to 11% of voters across the six swing states: law and order.
Indeed, given the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer and the ensuing protests across the United States—many of which involved looting and violence—it is not surprising that law and order has now become a more significant issue in the 2020 Presidential Election. In all six states, a plurality of respondents agreed that President Trump’s call for ‘law and order’ resonates with them.
Nevertheless, a greater proportion of respondents disapprove than approve of President Trump’s handling of the crisis that has followed the death of George Floyd. Whereas the number who approve ranges between 24% to 30%, the proportion who disapprove is much higher, with 45% to 50% of respondents in the six key swing states disapproving of the President’s handling of the crisis that has followed the death of George Floyd.
Moreover, a plurality of 41% to 44% in all six swing states think a President Joe Biden would have handled the crisis following the death of George Floyd better than President Trump did. This range is about twice as much as the 21% to 24% who think Biden would have handled it worse, and 16% to 18% who think there would have been no difference. Thus, despite President Trump’s calls for law and order, he will have to contend with the fact that Biden is regarded by nearly half of respondents as capable of doing a better job on the larger issue here than President Trump.
Despite a plurality believing that Biden would have done a better job than President Trump handling the George Floyd and race relations crisis, the public in the swing stats does approve of some of President Trump’s actions. For example, a plurality or majority in the six states (ranging from 41% to 50%) said the President was correct in asking the various state governors to make use of the National Guard where necessary. On the other hand, a significant 31% to 40% said he was incorrect to make this call.
Likewise, across the six states, 47% to 51% of respondents disagree with the calls of many protesters to “defund the police,” compared to just 23% to 26% of respondents who expressed agreement. Consequently, it is possible that the President could regain lost ground in the polls by emphasizing issues of law and order while critiquing the blanket call to “defund the police” as extreme.
Beyond the recent salience of law and order in the minds of many voters, the coronavirus pandemic remains a key issue for many, and the President’s handling of the crisis continues to weigh him down. Across the six states, respondents consistently ranked the President’s handling of the coronavirus crisis as one of the top two reasons not to vote for him (alongside his character).
Indeed, as was the case in our poll last month, respondents in all six states were more likely to disapprove than to approve of President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Our results last week find that 30% to 39% of respondents approve of the President’s handling of the crisis, whereas 44% to 51% disapprove. The President fares best in Florida, where only 6% more respondents disapproved than approved of his handling of the crisis, but he fares worst in Wisconsin, where 21% more respondents disapproved of the President’s handling of coronavirus than approved. As was the case last month, around 40% of respondents in all six states consider that a President Joe Biden would have handled the coronavirus crisis better than President Trump.
Whereas only 30% of Wisconsin respondents approved of the President’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, 53% of Wisconsin respondents approved of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ handling of the coronavirus crisis. Similarly, whereas only 33% of Michigan respondents approved of the President’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, 58% of them approved of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. This discrepancy means that, in both Michigan and Wisconsin, respondents were 23-25% more likely to approve of how the Democratic governor of their state handled the coronavirus crisis than to approve of President Trump’s handling of it.
This gap in the approval ratings of state governors versus the President is also having an impact on US Senate races in the swing states that are having them this November. In Michigan, the incumbent Democratic Senator Gary Peters currently has an 18% lead over the Republican candidate, John James. Whereas incumbent Senators are generally seen as having an advantage, it is possible that Governor Whitmer’s popularity in Michigan due to her handling of the coronavirus pandemic is translating into increased support for Peters’ reelection to the Senate.
Similarly, North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has consistently earned high approval ratings due to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In our latest poll, 50% of North Carolina respondents approved of his handling of the coronavirus crisis, with only 23% disapproving. This very positive net approval contrasts with President Trump’s -7% net disapproval in North Carolina over the coronavirus crisis. Governor Cooper’s high coronavirus approval rating seems to be helping his reelection prospects, as he currently leads the Republican candidate Dan Forest by 21%.
The reverse situation appears to be unfolding in Arizona, where Republican Governor Doug Ducey’s coronavirus approval rating is not favorable. Our poll found that only 36% of Arizona respondents approve of his handling of the coronavirus crisis, compared to 37% who disapprove. Despite the very similar proportions between those who approve and those disapprove of Governor Ducey’s handling of the crisis, it is worth comparing his 36% coronavirus approval rating with the 58% of Michigan respondents who approve of Governor Whitmer’s handling of coronavirus. This unpopularity for a local Republican could potentially explain our latest poll results for the US Senate election in Arizona, where the incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally is trailing Mark Kelly, the Democratic candidate, by 15%.
Although it is true that Senator McSally has only been a Senator for one year and thus her incumbent advantage might be limited, it is still noteworthy that she is 15% behind the Democratic candidate, whereas the Democratic incumbent Senator in Michigan is 18% ahead of the Republican candidate.
As the coronavirus crisis and the issue of law and order continue to be addressed in the coming weeks at both the State and Federal levels, it will become apparent how much of an impact either of the two crises is having not only on the Presidential Election, but also on US Senate and gubernatorial races across the country. For now, the momentum appears to be with Biden and the Democratic candidates across the board.
Due to rounding, some percentages do not add up to exactly 100.
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.