President Trump’s weekslong barrage against Joe Biden has failed to erase the Democrat’s lead across a set of key swing states, including the crucial battleground of Wisconsin, where Trump’s law-and-order message has rallied support on the right but has not swayed the majority of voters who dislike him, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.
Biden, the former vice president, leads Trump by 5 percentage points in Wisconsin and by a 9-point margin in neighboring Minnesota, a Democratic-leaning state that Trump has been seeking to flip with his vehement denunciations of rioting and crime.
The president has improved his political standing in Wisconsin in particular with an insistent appeal to Republican-leaning white voters alarmed by local unrest. But in both Midwestern states, along with the less-populous battlegrounds of Nevada and New Hampshire, Trump has not managed to overcome his fundamental political vulnerabilities: above all, his deep unpopularity with women and the widespread view among voters that he has mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic.
Overtaking Biden in some of those four states could be a significant boost to Trump’s reelection chances. He narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016 and barely lost the other three to Hillary Clinton.
Although Trump has steadied his candidacy since his political nadir early in the summer, the Times poll suggests that, less than two months before Election Day, he has yet to achieve the kind of major political breakthrough he needs.
Voters in Wisconsin and Minnesota are split on the question of which candidate they trust more to handle the subject of law and order, which Trump has tried to elevate. But the poll, conducted among likely voters, showed they prefer Biden by clear margins on the issues of the coronavirus pandemic, race relations, and fostering national unity, a sobering result for the president’s supporters.
Further, Trump is still struggling to garner the level of support that most incumbent presidents enjoy at this late stage of the campaign. In none of the four states did Trump’s support reach the 45 percent mark — a particularly ominous sign given the absence of serious third-party candidates, who in 2016 helped him prevail with less than 50 percent of the vote in a series of battleground states.
And although Trump delivered a focused set of attacks on Biden at the Republican convention, he has swerved far off message in recent days as he has struggled to rebut reports that he disparaged American war dead and told journalist Bob Woodward that he deliberately misled the public about the severity of the pandemic.
In Wisconsin, Biden received 48 percent support compared with 43 percent for Trump. That’s a significant dropoff from June, when a Times/Siena poll showed Biden up by 11 points.
Nearly all of the narrowing came as a result of Trump’s recovering support from voters to the right of center, some of whom had expressed feelings of disillusionment in the earlier poll amid the ravages of the pandemic and a major wave of racial-justice protests.
Biden is further ahead in Minnesota, 50 percent to 41 percent. Although no Republican presidential candidate has captured Minnesota since Richard Nixon’s reelection in 1972, Trump lost it by only 1.5 percentage points four years ago. His campaign wants to compete aggressively there to counter anticipated setbacks elsewhere in the industrial Midwest. Both nominees are headed there in the coming week.
In two less populous swing states that Trump barely lost in 2016, Biden is ahead of Trump by single-digit margins: He leads in Nevada by 4 percentage points, 46 percent to 42 percent, while in New Hampshire he leads by a 3-point margin, 45 to 42 percent.
The Times/Siena poll has a sampling error ranging from 3.9 percentage points in Minnesota to 5.5 in New Hampshire.
The four states surveyed in the poll may represent something of a last line of defense for Trump: Of the northern battlegrounds he captured in 2016, Wisconsin is seen as his best chance for winning again this year, over Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump’s campaign has viewed the other three states as potential pickup opportunities that could help him make up for lost ground elsewhere.
The poll results suggest that Trump retains a path to reelection that runs through these states, but that he has not yet made enough headway in any of them to catch up with Biden.