Voters Pull Away From Trump in Midwest Battlegrounds: Poll

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden exits his motorcade to board his campaign plane Monday en route to Ohio. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CN) — Onetime Donald Trump voters in the upper Midwest’s battleground states are swinging hard to Joe Biden in 2020, according to new polling from The New York Times.

The polling data, published on the Times’ Upshot blog Monday afternoon, shows a surge in support for Biden among white voters in northern battleground states, particularly in Wisconsin and Michigan, which Trump won by narrow margins in 2016.

Biden leads Trump by 8 points in Michigan and 10 in Wisconsin among likely voters, the poll shows. Those leads rely heavily on a surge with independent voters and white voters without a college education, alongside a slight boost from voters who supported third-party candidates in 2016.

The poll surveyed 5,556 voters in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, all of which swung to the right in 2016. Minnesota was the only one of the six that voted for Hillary Clinton, but her 1.5% margin was the smallest of any Democratic presidential candidate since Minnesota was the sole blue holdout against Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Pollsters also focused on the 4% of voters who said they planned to switch their vote from 2016, a huge majority of whom were moving into the Democratic camp. Biden held a 43-point lead among those voters, who were clustered heavily in suburban Minnesota, all over Wisconsin and in eastern Pennsylvania.

The Times noted that those side-swapping voters “effectively pack twice the punch of other voters, as they have both deducted a vote from their former preferred candidate and added one to the candidate they now support.” On their own, Times blogger Nate Cohn noted, that high margin alone would be enough to comfortably clinch the Midwest for Biden.

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One for a campaign rally in Sanford, Fla., on Monday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A fair chunk of those voters are white and without a college degree, a demographic that drew abundant media attention as a driving force for Trump’s 2016 win. Biden seized a commanding lead – 8 points – among white voters in Wisconsin and followed Trump by only 1 percentage point among white voters in Michigan.

Political scientist Thomas Holbrook, a professor at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, said that chipping away at Trump’s support among white people, and especially white men without college degrees, is another serious asset to Biden’s coalition.

“You can slice that group any number of ways. White working-class voters have been voting Republican in the last several elections, they just sort of broke for Trump more heavily in the last election,” Holbrook said. “You don’t have to win your opponent’s strongest supporters. You just have to cut into your opponent’s lead among that group. Similarly, Trump doesn’t have to win among Latino votes, but if he cuts into his opponent’s lead with those voters, that’s helpful.”

The Times poll also shows Biden with a strong lead among voters who turned to third parties in 2016, capturing 59% of voters who voted for the Green Party’s Jill Stein and 38% of those who supported Libertarian Gary Johnson. Trump garnered only 9% of the former Green voters and 14% of Johnson’s support base. Only 29% of Johnson voters said they planned to support this year’s Libertarian nominee, Jo Jorgensen.

Holbrook said that while those shifts are good for Biden, they don’t necessarily translate to a shift toward Democrats more generally. Many of those voters, along with those who sat out the 2016 election, may have been protest votes against 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.

“At some level, those were generally votes who weren’t comfortable voting for Trump, but also didn’t want to vote for Clinton,” he said. “Back in 2016, maybe a lot of people who may have voted third party thought that Clinton was going to win… so those may have been sort of naturally democratic votes to begin with.”

In its analysis, the Times estimated Biden’s overall lead in the six states at 6 points, noting that it could go as high as 7 points if turnout is high enough among voters who sat out 2016. Biden holds a 14-point lead among those voters, according to the polling.

Trump’s win in 2016 was an upset for pollsters, most of whom had predicted a narrow Clinton win. Holbrook said that with new poll weighting and a commanding margin for Biden, he’s not concerned about a repeat.

“I think there’s probably a greater chance that they slightly overestimate Trump support rather than Biden support because they’re trying to correct for underestimating last time,” he said. “If that’s the case now, and nationally, Biden is up by 8 points, boy, it’s going to be hard for [Trump] to win any of these states we’re talking about.”

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