Former Vice President Joe Biden is dominating President Donald Trump in the latest polls. No, the election is not over yet, and Trump still has a non-negligible chance of winning. But a look through history reveals that Biden is in a better position at this point than any challenger since 1936, when the first scientific polls were taken in a presidential race.
In the 21 previous presidential elections since 1936, there have only been five challengers who led at this time. Of those five, only one (Bill Clinton in 1992) was ahead by more than 5 points. None of those five were earning more than 48% of the vote in the polls. In other words, Biden is the first challenger to be above 50% at this late juncture in the campaign.
This also continues to mark a massive difference with the 2016 campaign. While Hillary Clinton was ahead of Trump by as high as 7 points in October 2016, she never came anywhere close to approaching 50% of the vote. Trump merely had to win the lionshare of the undecided or third party voters (who would bolt their candidate) to earn a victory in 2016.
The 2020 presidential campaign has been repeatedly rocked by seismic events – from the outbreak of a devastating pandemic to President Donald Trump contracting COVID-19. Yet in at least two important respects, not much has changed: Joe Biden continues to hold sizable advantages over Trump on most major issues and key personal traits, as well as in overall voter preferences. And voters continue to be highly focused on the election and attach great importance to its outcome.
With less than a month to go before the election, a majority of registered voters (57%) say they are very or somewhat confident in Biden to handle the public health impact of the coronavirus, while 40% express a similar level of confidence in Trump. In June, Biden held a narrower, 11 percentage point lead on handling the coronavirus outbreak (52% Biden, 41% Trump).
At a time of deep political divisions and partisan antipathy, voters are far more likely to express confidence in Biden than Trump to unify the country. Half of voters (50%) say they are confident in Biden to “bring the country closer together,” compared with just 30% who express confidence in Trump.
The new survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 5 among 11,929 U.S. adults, including 10,543 registered voters, finds that Biden maintains an overall lead in voter preferences: 52% of registered voters say if the election were held today, they would vote for Biden or lean toward voting for him, while 42% support or lean toward voting for Trump. Another 4% of voters back Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, while 1% support Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins in the 2020 election. (See detailed tables for full demographic breaks on voter preferences.)
The survey was in the field when Trump announced on Twitter, early on the morning of Oct. 2, that he and first lady Melania Trump had contracted COVID-19. There are no significant differences in voter preferences, or in confidence in the two candidates to handle the impact of the coronavirus, before and after his announcement.
Trump’s handling of the nation’s economy remains a relative strong point. About half of voters (52%) express confidence in Trump to make good decisions about economic policy, one the highest shares expressing confidence in the president on any of the six issues on the survey. However, about as many voters (51%) have confidence in Biden on the economy.
Since summer, there has been some improvement in views of the nation’s economy. Among all voters, 35% say economic conditions are excellent or good, up from 28% in June. However, this change has come almost entirely among Trump supporters. And the gap in economic perceptions, already wide, has grown much wider. Two-thirds (67%) of Trump supporters now say that economic conditions are excellent or good, compared with 51% who said this in June. Just 11% of Biden supporters view economic conditions positively, which is little changed from four months ago (9%).
The survey finds that voters view Biden much more positively than Trump for compassion, honesty and being a good role model. Nearly twice as many voters say “compassionate” describes Biden very or fairly well than say it applies to Trump (67% vs. 34%). More than half of voters (53%) say Biden is honest, compared with 35% who describe Trump as honest. And far more voters say Biden is a good role model (54% vs. 28%).
The ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Sunday was the latest poll to indicate Biden’s strength. Biden led Trump by a 55% to 43% margin among likely voters. The poll was the third high quality national poll published this week that had Biden up by at least 10 points and above 50%. The other two being from CNN/SSRS and Fox News.
Indeed, the average of polls has Biden at around 52% or 53% and up by somewhere between 10 and 11 points. This is an unprecedented position for a challenger with a mere 23 days to go until Election Day. Even if every undecided or current third party voter went to Trump now, he’d still be down about 5 to 6 points nationally. That’s never been the case with an incumbent since 1936 at this point.
Of course, it’s the Electoral College that matters. There are very few universes in which Trump could win the Electoral College, if he were to lose nationally by 5 to 6 points. New polls out on Sunday from CBS News/YouGov demonstrate that Biden’s above 50% in some key battlegrounds. He leads 52% to 46% in Michigan and Nevada. In Iowa, a state that Trump took by 9 points in 2016 and is not anywhere close to must win for Biden, the race is tied at 49%.
A look under the hood reveals why Biden is in such a strong position. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Covid-19 has either been, or been within the margin of error of being the nation’s most important problem in Gallup polling.
The three challengers in the polling era (Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1992) who defeated incumbents have all been trusted more than the incumbent to deal with what Americans thought was the nation’s most important problem. None, however, were trusted by more than 50% of the voters.
Today, Biden has a huge advantage over Trump when it comes to the pandemic. The clear majority (59%) of likely voters in the last CNN poll said Biden would better be able to handle the outbreak. Just 38% said Trump would do a better job than Biden.