Given its track record in presidential campaigns over the last 20 years, it’s hard to think of Florida as anything other than a Toss Up. Since 2000, the winner of the state has never carried it by more than 5 points. In fact, in four of the last five presidential elections, the winner squeaked in by 3 points or less.
But, at this point, this battleground state looks less like a 50-50 proposition and more like a state that is leaning Biden’s way.
To paraphrase CNN’s crack polling analyst Harry Enten; sometimes politics is complicated, sometimes it’s not. Right now, it’s really not. When a major health crisis hits, Americans expect their leaders to handle it. If they don’t, voters will turn against them.
In Florida, as COVID-19 cases started to rise this summer, Trump has seen his vote margin and his job approval rating drop.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll tracker, Trump held a decent — though unimpressive, 47-48 percent of the vote against Joe Biden in the Sunshine state from March through April. By May, it had dropped to 45 percent. He has spent most of June in the 42-43 percent range. Biden’s lead has expanded from 2 points in March to almost 7 points in July.
It’s not just Trump who has seen his numbers slump as the state has struggled to contain the virus this summer. GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has seen a drastic change in his political fortunes from spring to summer. A Quinnipiac poll released this week found DeSantis’ job approval rating at just 41 percent favorable to 52 percent unfavorable — a 19 point shift in negative opinion since April.
That July Quinnipiac poll found Biden leading Trump by 20 points on who is best able to handle the coronavirus, including an eight-point lead with those 65 and older. For months, Trump has questioned the severity of this crisis. But in Florida, 83 percent of voters see coronavirus as a serious problem, and 66 percent are very, or somewhat worried that they will get this virus. The only group not taking coronavirus seriously are Republican voters; 52 percent say they think the virus is under control.
Back in April, the last time Quinnipiac polled Florida, Biden had a narrow 4 point (46-42 percent) lead. In July, that lead has ballooned to 13 points (51-38). The big changes from April to July were among independents (Biden went from +7 to +16), men (Biden from -6 to +7) and white men (Biden from -21 to -11). Biden also improved his vote among Latinos by 9 points (from +8 to +17).
Trump supporters can criticize Quinnipiac’s recent track record in the state (their final polls in 2018 showed Democrats significantly ahead in both the Governor and Senate races). Even so, theIr final 2016 poll showed a dead heat in a state that Trump won by less than 2 points. More important than any polling, however, is the fact that Trump announced on Thursday that the RNC was cancelling their convention in Jacksonville. This is about all the proof you need that he and the campaign realize how big of a hole he’s currently sitting in.
Florida always finds a way to stay close. And, there’s reason to believe that Trump can win back some of the white men he lost from April to July. But, Biden is better positioned with these voters than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. A July 2016 Quinnipiac poll found Clinton’s favorable/unfavorable rating in the state at a dismal 35 to 59 percent (including 53 percent who viewed her very unfavorably). Opinions of Biden are evenly divided - 43 percent favorable to 43 percent unfavorable. Among white men, 71 percent viewed the former Secretary of State very unfavorably in July of 2016. Biden’s strongly unfavorable ratings among these voters are 44 percent.
Democrats also feel snake-bit in this state. They went into 2016 with what they thought was an insurmountable lead in early voting. They soon found that lead wiped out with a surge of Trump voters on Election Day. And, of course, we’ll always remember hanging chads and butterfly ballots. This year, however, notes one Democratic strategist, “I have greater faith in Florida’s system of election administration and ability to handle huge influx of mail ballots than any other top-tier battleground state except Arizona.”
If things on the coronavirus front start to improve, he may be able to win some of those voters back. For now, however, Trump is the underdog.
This race moves from Toss Up to Lean Democrat. (Full ratings here)