Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest weekly voting intention poll for the US Presidential Election, our first since the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, finds Joe Biden leading Donald Trump by 9% nationally, which represents a 1% increase in Joe Biden’s lead compared to last week (a change that falls within the margin of error of this poll). At this stage, 50% of voters think they will vote for Joe Biden, a one-point increase from last week, whereas support for Donald Trump remained stable at 41%. The proportion of undecided voters remained at 7% for the fourth week running. Altogether, our latest results are as follows:

Joseph R. Biden (Democrat) 50% (­­+1)

Donald J. Trump (Republican) 41% (–)

Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian) 2% (–)

Howie Hawkins (Green) 1% (–)

Other (Another Third Party / Write In) 1% (–)

Don’t Know 7% (–)

Likelihood to vote decreased by 1% compared to last week (within the margin of error of this poll): 68% of respondents now say they will certainly vote. Interestingly, likely Joe Biden voters are currently 5% more likely to say they are ‘certain to vote’ compared to likely Donald Trump voters.

The Enthusiasm Gap

The proportion of likely Donald Trump voters who say they feel “very enthusiastic” about voting for him declined for the third consecutive week, this time falling from 60% to 58%, which is seven points lower than at the start of September. Meanwhile, the proportion of likely Joe Biden voters who say they feel “very enthusiastic” about voting for the Democratic candidate also dropped by two points to 49%. However, this figure is only two points lower than it was at the start of September, suggesting that Joe Biden has managed to sustain stable levels of enthusiasm among his supporters during September, whereas Donald Trump has faltered noticeably when it comes to enthusiasm. As a result, Joe Biden has narrowed the enthusiasm gap that separates his likely voters from Donald Trump’s likely voters by 5% over the course of September.

Three quarters (75%) of likely Donald Trump voters continue to say they will vote for the incumbent President primarily because they support him, rather than because they oppose Joe Biden (25%).

Meanwhile, 51%of likely Joe Biden voters say they are voting for the Democratic candidate primarily because they support him rather than because they oppose Donald Trump, which is an increase of two points from last week. The proportion of likely Joe Biden voters basing their decision off their opposition to Donald Trump is currently 49%.

A Contested Result?

Due to the logistical complexity of mail-in ballots and the discrepancy in how likely Donald Trump voters and likely Joe Biden voters intend to vote, it is highly possible that the election result will be contested. Overall, 42% intend to cast their vote in person on Election Day, 17% intend to vote in person prior to Election Day, and 35% say they will vote by mail. While a clear majority (58%) of likely Donald Trump voters will vote in person on election day, less than a third (31%) of likely Joe Biden voters will vote via this method. On the other hand, only 20% of likely Donald Trump voters say they will vote by mail, yet 49% of Joe Biden voters say they will.

So far, 27% of those who intend to vote by mail have received a ballot. Overall, 12% have sent a completed and signed ballot to their county’s Board of Elections, while 73% have not yet received their ballot in the mail.

Currently, half (50%) of respondents agree with the statement “I have trust in the integrity of the electoral process in the United States.” Likely Donald Trump voters (58%) continue to be somewhat more likely to agree with this statement than likely Joe Biden voters (51%), and less likely to disagree (17% to 25%, respectively).

Moreover, at this stage, a slight plurality (36%) continue to believe Donald Trump is more likely to win the election than Joe Biden (33%). The proportion of respondents who believe the incumbent President will be re-elected has remained stable compared to our poll last week. The relatively even split suggests that, should there be a contested result, the US public does not have a consensus view on the likely outcome of this election.

Supreme Court Vacancy

The possibility that the election result may be contested has been further increased during the past week, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg’s death leaves the court split four to four on many critical cases. In the circumstance of a contested election this November, the Supreme Court may be required to decide the outcome.

At this stage, a plurality (43%) of respondents say they would trust the Supreme Court to come to a fair decision regarding the outcome of the election, while 30% say they would not. A further 27% say don’t know. Interestingly, while trust did not break across partisan lines last week, likely Joe Biden voters are now evenly split (38% and 38%) on their trust in the Supreme Court’s ability to come to a fair decision. By contrast, a majority (53%) of likely Donald Trump voters would trust the Supreme Court to come to a fair decision, while less than a quarter (23%) would not.

If an eight-person Supreme Court was split 4-4 in any case (including deciding on the outcome of a contested election), the request to stay a lower court ruling would be denied, which would leave a lower court ruling in place of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, this situation looks increasingly unlikely to occur during the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential Election: Donald Trump will likely announce a replacement for Ginsburg in the coming days, and the Republican-controlled Senate looks likely to confirm the appointment. The Senate’s decision is particularly controversial, as the Republican-controlled Senate refused to confirm President Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court position in March 2016.

An overwhelming majority (70%) of likely Donald Trump voters believe that the President and Republican Senators would have a better chance of winning their respective elections in November if Donald Trump nominated, and the Senate confirmed, a new Supreme Court justice as soon as possible. Only 14% of likely Trump voters believe that Donald Trump and Republican Senators will have a better chance of re-election if the President and Senate pledge to wait until the next term.

The Debates

In an election which looks likely to be closely contested well beyond November 3, the series of Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates (due to take place on September 29, October 7 (VP), October 15 and October 22) may have a significant impact in the race. Indeed, a strong majority (63%) of the US public say they will watch the Presidential Debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. A further 17% do not know whether they will watch the debates, while only around a fifth are certain that they will not. Notably, 40% of undecided voters will also tune into the debates.

Moreover, over half (53%) of respondents say they will watch the Vice-Presidential Debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence.

However, among those who will watch the debates, a majority (61%) say they are unlikely to change whether or how they will vote based on what they see. Nevertheless, almost a quarter (23%) say they are likely to change whether or how they will vote based on what they see at the debates, a proportion which is certainly significant enough to potentially sway the outcome of the election.

Despite the widespread assumption that the United States has been deeply polarized for years now, a significant proportion of voters have only decided who they will vote for in recent months. Our poll finds that 30% of likely Donald Trump voters also decided they will vote for the Republican ticket within the last six months, compared to 57% who made this decision over a year ago.

Moreover, 35% of likely Joe Biden voters only decided they will vote for the Democratic ticket in the past six months, compared to 51% who made this decision over a year ago. For these voters who only recently made up their minds—and for those who remain undecided—the debates will be a critical opportunity to assess the options and confirm their decisions.

Whereas our poll found that 76% are extremely certain that they will indeed vote for the candidate they selected in our voting intention poll, a further 22% are only moderately or somewhat certain about their voting intention, highlighting once again the importance of the debates and the Supreme Court vacancy in the coming weeks. Supporters of Donald Trump and Joe Biden were almost as likely to be as certain in their selection, indicating that there are opportunities for both candidates to secure additional voters.

Overall, a majority (51%) of Donald Trump supporters believe that the incumbent President will put in a 10 out of 10 performance in the Presidential Debates, whereas only 35% of likely Joe Biden voters think the former Vice President will provide a performance worthy of a 10 out of 10.

Almost a quarter (24%) of Joe Biden supporters believe the Democrat’s performance will be a 7 out of 10 or lower, whereas only 16% of Donald Trump voters say the same about the Republican. It is unclear at this stage whether the greater confidence of likely Donald Trump voters is due to their greater levels of enthusiasm for their favoured candidate in comparison to likely Joe Biden supporters, or potentially due to Biden voters’ lower exposure to Biden on the campaign trail and concerns about Joe Biden’s age and health. Ultimately, the Presidential Debates could play a crucial part in the final stages of the campaign.

Coronavirus and Key Policy Areas

The President’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic appears to be a key reason why he continues to trail Joe Biden nationally. As the US death toll from the pandemic passes 200,000, the proportion of the American public which believes that the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic has so far spread within the United States could have been avoided has risen by two points to 60%. Among those likely to vote for Donald Trump, 33% say the spread of the pandemic could have been avoided, a proportion which has also risen by two points compared to last week. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority (83%) of likely Joe Biden voters believe the current impact of coronavirus could have been avoided.

The economy remains the most significant issue for a plurality of voters ahead of November: 34% of the US public say that the economy is the key policy area most likely to determine how they vote in November, a rise of 1% compared to last week (within the margin of error of this poll). Following the economy, a quarter (25%) now say healthcare policy will be most likely to determine their vote, while a further 8% will primarily base their vote on law and order issues.

While the plurality believes that economic issues will be central in determining how they vote, the US public remains evenly divided on which candidate is best suited to lead a strong economic recovery. At the moment, 41% of Americans say that Joe Biden is more likely to lead a strong economic recovery, while 40% believe that Donald Trump isa difference which falls within the margin of error of this poll.  

Overall, Joe Biden’s 9% national lead remains a considerable margin for Donald Trump to surmount. Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s ability to shift the Supreme Court to the right in the coming weeks may provide a boost to his chances of re-election in the event of a contested election. Although Americans are currently divided on which candidate will succeed in supporting the country’s economy out of the coronavirus crisis, both candidates have an opportunity to convince undecided voters during the debates, a prospect that likely Donald Trump voters are notably more confident about.

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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