As the headline suggests, there’s a slew of polling data out in the past two days that might give the Trump campaign heartburn in states like Michigan, North Carolina, and even Texas. Still, I can’t help but wonder why and how so many analysts and media outlets can put much stock into early polling data. In fact, for that matter, after observing the 2016 election where nearly every poll said Hillary Clinton was a lock for the presidency, I’d be rather skeptical toward early polls regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on.
The numbers are worth examining for both sides, but when polls are taken this early, it’s hard to account for general enthusiasm since a good portion of voters, on each side, have yet to actually start paying attention to the race.
Here’s a rundown of what’s happening in the most recent 2020 presidential election polls between President Trump and his Democratic contenders in some key battleground states.
Michigan returning to dark-blue form?
A poll out of Michigan on Tuesday showed the entire Democratic field beating President Trump in the Wolverine State, with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders each putting up a 12-point lead over the President:
Both former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont showed 12-point margins over the first-term Republican incumbent in a Glengariff Group public opinion survey of 600 likely voters released to The Detroit News and WDIV-TV (Local 4). Three other Democrats included in the poll were preferred over Trump by less substantial margins.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (6 points), U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (4 points) and Kamala Harris of California (3 points) polled ahead of the president in the Glengariff poll, but the advantages of Warren and Harris were within the 4-percentage-point margin of error.
In other words, as you’d expect, Michigan is breaking harder for populist and/or establishment figures in the Democratic field. Joe Biden is a household name and can cut across the divide to speak to many of the same voters who pulled the lever for Trump in 2016. Ironically, despite policy differences with Biden, Bernie Sanders can do the same thing, just with a different style.
North Carolina gives Biden an early lead
An Emerson poll out of the Tar Heel State shows Biden with the best shot at beating Trump there, but once again, Bernie is right on his tail:
The chart offers a glimpse into where the minds of voters are starting off in this primary process. There’s a perception that Biden would be the one to beat Trump, so the polling tends to reflect and promote the narrative at the same time. In that regard, early polling like this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as voters get into the mindset that candidates all possess a certain ability to win which is static throughout the campaign. Biden is benefitting from that perception, as is Bernie and Buttigieg.
Will Texas flip blue in 2020?
Asking the question is getting more and more meaningless since Texas remains a very solid red state, under most circumstances. Even with all the might of national support, former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke couldn’t win statewide to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. The question will be whether a Democrat like Joe Biden would be able to accomplish the Democratic mission of flipping the largest Republican Electoral College stronghold.
Polling out on Wednesday from Quinnipiac University shows Biden pulling in 48% of the vote in Texas to Trump at 44%:
In a head-to-head matchup, former Vice President Joe Biden has 48% while President Donald Trump has 44%, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll published Wednesday. In addition, the president is locked in too-close-to-call matchups with six other Democratic 2020 presidential candidates.
According to the poll, Trump is within or just in excess of the margin of error when up against these six candidates: Trump is at 46% compared to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 45%; Trump at 47% while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is at 44%; Trump at 48% compared to former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s 45%; Trump at 46% compared to South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 44%; Trump at 47% while California Sen. Kamala Harris has 43%; and Trump at 46% compared to former San Antonio, Texas, Mayor Julian Castro at 43%.
The survey has is a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,159 Texas voters from May 29 to June 4.
For a variety of reason, Trump remains popular with the Republican base, but his popularity in some regions seems to bend a little weaker even among the GOP. Texas is one of those areas which is predominately favorable for Trump, but also on the brim of a demographic shift which is causing polls like this to jump out and give Republicans a scare and Democrats hope. The take on something like this is that Biden has yet to become a candidate being forced to stake out positions and defend them on topics like abortion and gun control, topics which would drive down his numbers in the Lone Star State. These numbers will change, but they must be giving President Trump some notice.
Are these polls accurate?
The Hill reports that some Republican strategists are worried, but not yet “sounding the alarm” when it comes to early polling:
“We are hundreds of news cycles, and an entire Democratic primary process away from a head-to-head poll mattering,” said Robert Blizzard, a GOP pollster. “There were public polls that showed Trump losing those states as late as the fall of 2016 and he won them. Horse race is fun and interesting but meaningless until the end.”
Democrats need something to hang their hat on right now, and these polls serve their purpose in igniting Democrats looking for a chance to beat Donald Trump. Republicans will also be watching closely, but with a much more grimaced expression wondering whether these polls are any more or less accurate in terms of predicting the final outcome as they were (or weren’t) in 2016.
One big difference is that we’re still sitting at the very front end of the primary. The polls which come after Democrats choose a nominee next year will be studied much more closely for trends which resemble 2016 when it relates to accuracy.