Late last week, I asked Karl Rove -- who pushed back on reports that he's advising the Trump campaign in a significant way -- if the president is currently the underdog in the 2020 race. His full answer is worth listening to, but the upshot was yes; at this point, Joe Biden is the favorite. Looking at the national polling, it's hard to argue otherwise. Trump hasn't led in a single national poll since February, and Joe Biden has held a mid-single digit average lead for weeks on end. The race is stable, and the incumbent is trailing. But it's unclear what the true margin of separation is.
Some polling shows the presumptive Democratic nominee with a commanding lead (eight points in the latest Fox survey, and 11 points according to Quinnipiac), while other data points show a virtual tie (The Hill/Harris shows Biden up by a single point, and CNBC's numbers show a three-point spread). And on the heels of a CNN poll showing Trump leading Biden in swing states, last week's CNBC survey also shows the president holding a small lead in crucial battleground states that will determine the winner of the electoral college:
In a hypothetical match-up, Trump holds a narrow, 48%-46% lead over Biden among all the battleground voters surveyed, including a 41%-32% edge among independents...The survey polled 5,408 likely voters in battleground states [Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin] from Friday to Sunday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points...Trump also leads Biden 51%-40% in who would do a better job handling the economy. The two are in a statistical tie over who would do a better job handling coronavirus.
These nuggets are also interesting:
CNBC poll of AZ, FL, MI, NC, PA, WI pic.twitter.com/FLczTyCuHC— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) May 25, 2020
The good news for Trump here is self-evident, albeit in states he swept in 2016. There's peril in the data, however: "If there is a second [COVID] wave, swing-state voters are divided over who should be blamed. Democrats overwhelmingly said the two people or groups most responsible would be Trump and states that reopened their economies too soon, while Republicans said it would be the fault of China and Democrats. In a possibly worrisome sign for the president, a plurality of independents agreed with Democrats and said it would be mostly Trump and the states’ fault, though by a less significant margin." In other words, as long as the nation more or less steadily recovers from Coronavirus, Trump stands to benefit, especially if voters feel like Biden was wrong about the recovery being "a long way away." But if conditions are worrisome in the fall -- especially if there's a bad second wave of the virus -- he'll be in serious trouble.
Meanwhile, there are other red flags for Team Trump, including this analysis that far more 2016 Trump voters are planning to defect to Biden this cycle, versus former Hillary voters crossing over to back the president this time around. More to the point, unless Trump convinces a significant chunk of voters that he deserves another term (I very much doubt conspiratorial rage tweeting and cheap insults will help reassure the unconverted and undecided), this dynamic could be the whole ballgame:
Nothing has really changed in 4 years, except the Democratic nominee is not Hillary Clinton https://t.co/AuzHi2bmkb— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) May 24, 2020
One of the biggest errors in the post-analysis of Trump's 2016 upset victory, in my view, is underestimating the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton. Trump lost the national vote by close to three million ballots last time out, threading the electoral college needle in three midwestern states by carrying them by a combined margin of less than 80,000 votes. Joe Biden is nowhere near as disliked as Clinton was, which means that he has a relatively easy lift to outperform her and win the presidency. What Trump needs is for more voters to believe that his leadership and outcomes merit four more years, and/or that Biden isn't up for the job. I'll leave you with this:
Nearly 100,000 lives have been lost, and tens of millions are out of work.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 24, 2020
Meanwhile, the president spent his day golfing. pic.twitter.com/H1BVNtgVjA