Without the Economy to Lean On, Does Trump Have a Path Back?

For those with their fingers already crossed that President Trump can rejuvenate his reelection hopes, a lot of statewide data came out this week that may have them crossing the other set of fingers. The New York Times and Siena College released statewide polls in each of the six top battleground states on Wednesday. Fox News followed on Thursday evening with four statewide polls in two of those battlegrounds and two more states that are near battleground status.

In the six top battleground states—all of which the president won in 2016—the Times/Siena poll had Trump behind Joe Biden by between 6 and 11 points, the three tightest being Florida (47 to 41 percent), Arizona (48 to 41 percent), and North Carolina (49 to 40 percent). The three with the bigger leads for Biden were the three that put Trump over the top in 2016: Pennsylvania (50 to 40 percent), Michigan (47 to 36 percent), and Wisconsin (49 to 38 percent).

The two Fox polls conducted in the Big Six states were in Florida, where Biden led by 9 points (49 to 40 percent), and North Carolina, where they had only a 2-point lead for Biden (47 to 45 percent), which is narrower than the Times’ 9 points. The other two Fox polls were in another two states that Trump won in 2016: Georgia, where Biden enjoyed a 2-point edge (47 to 45 percent), and Texas, where Biden’s edge was a single point—both obviously well within the margin of error.

Let’s take a look alphabetically at the Big Six: Trump carried Arizona by 3.5 percentage points, Florida by 1.2 points, Michigan by just two-tenths of a point (his narrowest margin in any state), North Carolina by 3.7 percentage points, and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin both by seven-tenths of a point.

Simply put, the brightest number for the president was his 2-point deficit in Fox's North Carolina survey.

Georgia and Texas are both states transitioning from red Republican to a more competitive shade of purple. These are driven by rising numbers of minority voters, but also by suburbs that are voting increasingly Democratic, particularly those with large shares of college-educated voters. A Trump lead of just 1 point in Texas and 2 points in Georgia in the two Fox polls are consistent with other data we have seen in recent months and with what is going on nationally.

It should be noted that there were some pretty bad national numbers for Trump this week, which were very consistent with what we saw in the statewide numbers. On Tuesday, the New York Times/Siena College national poll showed Biden up 14 points (50 to 36 percent), the same margin as the CNN poll that Trump went ballistic over earlier in the month. The CNBC “All America Economic Survey,” conducted by the bipartisan team of Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies that also does the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, put Biden’s lead at 9 points (47 to 38 percent), up from a 4-point lead in their April poll.

The coronavirus crisis and the state of race relations, and what role Trump may have had in exacerbating the racial situation, may end up being what turned a very difficult race into a near-impossible race for him. A very senior Republican strategist privately remarked this week that what had been some discomfort of many voters with Trump’s behavior and style, particularly his tweeting, has now shifted more onto competence, or in his words, whether Trump had “the chops” for the job.

Recently, when one very extremely experienced Republican operative was asked what could happen to turn this race around, he responded that the focus would have to shift to the economy. For those who are not full-time residents of the Trump base, the strong economy was what was working for him, and to this day, his job-approval ratings on handling the economy are still better than his approval ratings overall or on any other aspect of the job.

The latest national Fox News poll, conducted in mid-June, gave Trump’s handling of the economy a 49 percent approval rating, against 46 percent disapproval, 5 points better than his overall job rating of 44 percent approving, 55 percent disapproving. His approval on the economy was 10 points better than his 39 percent on dealing with health care, and 27 points better than his handling of race relations.

The irony of course is that we are in the greatest economic decline since the Great Depression, and a top adviser to the president’s own party is suggesting that he needs to pivot back to the economy, the thing that provided Trump cover for so long. That cover is getting thinner and thinner and yet, it is still their best argument, indeed their only plausible argument. Wow.

This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on June 26, 2020