As the pace of polling data accelerates in the home stretch of the campaign season, it’s important to remember that not all pollsters are equal in the quality and reliability of their work. There are, of course, endlessly raging debates among public-opinion researchers over polling methodologies. That said, you can separate the sheep from the goats to some extent. The best available guide for doing so is FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings, which were updated earlier this year.
Six polling outfits have earned FiveThirtyEight’s gold-standard “A-plus” rating, and two of them have released surveys today; neither offers any good news for President Trump in his efforts to cut into Joe Biden’s national and battleground-state leads.
A new national survey from Marist College for NPR/PBS shows Biden with a 52/42 lead among registered voters. This is nearly identical to the 53/42 Biden lead Marist found in August. The undecided vote is very low (3 percent), and only 3 percent of voters with a candidate preference think they may change their minds. The poll shows a very stable race with little chance of any late changes. Biden leads by six points among seniors, a demographic Trump won by seven points in 2016, and he has an incredible 35 point lead among white college graduates — a cohort Trump won by three points in the last election.
Meanwhile, the New York Times partnership with Siena College produced new state polls from Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina, testing likely voters on both the presidential and Senate races. Trump carried Arizona by 3.5 percent in 2016; Times–Siena has him trailing Biden by nine points (49/40). Trump only lost Maine by 2.9 percent in 2016, and he carried the Second Congressional District (which casts its own electoral vote) by over nine points. According to Times–Siena, Trump is currently trailing in Maine by 17 points, and is losing the Second District by two points. Only in North Carolina is Trump’s fall-off in support more modest, from just under a five-point win in 2016 to a one-point deficit (44/45) against Biden today. And as the Times write-up notes, his problems are afflicting his party’s Senate candidates, too:
President Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has imperiled both his own re-election and his party’s majority in the Senate, and Republican lawmakers in crucial states like Arizona, North Carolina and Maine have fallen behind their Democratic challengers amid broad disapproval of the president, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College …
In all three states, Democratic Senate candidates were leading Republican incumbents by five percentage points or more.
A net gain of three Senate seats would produce a Democratic Senate if Biden wins and Kamala Harris becomes the tie-breaking president of the Senate.
Another state poll isn’t from a FiveThirtyEight A-plus pollster (it’s only B-plus), but EPIC-MRA has a long history of polling Michigan (their final 2016 poll had Clinton leading Trump by four points with a big undecided vote, which wasn’t too far off). It shows Biden up by eight points (48/40), and the only good news for the president is that earlier surveys from this pollster showed Biden up by double digits. Though Biden’s level of support has eroded somewhat, it doesn’t look like Trump has the potential to overtake him. The Detroit Free Press observed:
Trump’s level of support has barely budged from the 39% he got in the June poll and 40% in the July poll, suggesting that may be a ceiling for him.
A final survey of interest is a national poll from AP-NORC, which doesn’t provide horse-race numbers but does indicate that recent improvements in the environment for Trump may be far too little, too late. His approval rating for handling the coronavirus has risen from 31 percent last month to a still-abysmal 39 percent in September. His approval rating for managing the economy has been flat all summer — right at 50 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who think the country is on the “right track” has gone up, but only from 20 percent in August to 27 percent in September. It’s a number that could definitely hold down Trump’s appeal to undecided voters.