President Trump is down in the polls, both nationally and in the bulk of the battleground states he would need to beat Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in November — but polling averages indicate that Trump may actually be in better shape in his race against Biden than he was at the same stage in his 2016 race against Hillary Clinton.
And some observers, including CNN anchor Jake Tapper, say they expect the 2020 race to tighten after the Republican National Convention (RNC) this week. While Tapper argued the convention presented a filtered and skewed view of Trump (of a president “not sending tweets that upset people”), he suggested it could help give the president an electoral bump. Other analysts came away with a similar prediction.
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Trump’s come-from-behind electoral win in 2016 took many by surprise despite the fact polls had tightened ahead of Election Day. While Trump was uniformly trailing, he was in many cases polling within the margin of error. That was not the case in late August of the 2016 race, when Clinton held a wide lead over Trump in battleground states like Wisconsin, where she led by more than 10 percentage points in late August. Now, Biden holds a 3.5 percentage point lead over Trump in Wisconsin in the RCP average, which registered its most recent polls on Sunday.
It should be noted that at this point Biden is outperforming Clinton nationally versus the same stage in 2016. The RCP average in late August 2016 had Clinton leading by 6 points, and Biden is currently up by 7.1 points after some polls came out midweek. But it’s not the national popular vote that decides the presidency. It’s the Electoral College.
And Trump is largely outperforming his 2016 benchmarks in some of the most important states to the Electoral College.
Michigan: Biden is currently leading Trump by 2.6 points in the RCP average. Clinton led by 9.
Pennsylvania: Biden is currently leading Trump by 5.8 percentage points in the RCP average. Clinton led by 9.2.
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North Carolina: Trump and Biden are currently in a dead heat in the RCP average, despite sparse polling. There was a CNBC poll that came out Sunday giving Biden a 1-point lead. Clinton led by 1.7.
Polling in Ohio is not recent enough to draw any indication of where the race between Trump and Biden might sit. And there are some states where Trump is lagging behind his 2016 standing, like Arizona.
Biden is currently leading Trump by 2.2 points in the RCP average in Arizona. The polling situation there is the same as in North Carolina, with polls largely sparse, but the CNBC poll from Sunday gave Biden a 2-point advantage. Clinton trailed Trump by 1.5 points in Arizona in 2016 before Trump eventually won the state.
And in Florida, which Trump eventually won, Biden is slightly outperforming Clinton in the RCP average relative to the same time in 2016. One potential cause for this is Biden’s better standing among older people, who are one of Republicans’ bread-and-butter demographics and were one of the driving forces behind Trump’s 2016 win.
The current race, of course, is different. Trump has the incumbency advantage yet a controversial record to defend, especially on the pandemic. But the numbers overall indicate that Trump remains competitive in several of the most important states to the Electoral College.
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Additionally, the potential phenomenon of “secret Trump voters” who won’t share their support for the president with others, let alone pollsters, looms large. Also casting a shadow over the election is the violence on American streets, often stemming from anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests that have escalated into riots.
Democrats have begun to address the violence issue, with Biden condemning the violence on television this week. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., warned the unrest is an issue that Trump could potentially use to great effect.
“I was a person four years ago that warned that Donald Trump could win. And I have flagged this issue two months ago, because I could see people trying to use it as a wedge issue and I think it’s very important that Democrats not let that happen,” Dingell told Fox News on Thursday.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.