With all the appropriate disclaimers — there are still four weeks, possibly two more debates, and a vast number of paid ads, social-media messages, and get-out-the-vote drives ahead — we could be reaching a key inflection point in the 2020 presidential contest. National and some state polls are beginning to show that the one-two punch of the first presidential debate and Trump’s handling of his own COVID-19 infection could be pushing voters away from him in droves.
Two reasonably well-regarded national polls taken after the debate show Biden with big double-digit leads. The NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, which ended before the president’s COVID diagnosis, showed Biden up 14 percent (53-39) among registered voters. A CNN poll with data from October 1 to 4 (the president’s diagnosis was disclosed in the wee hours of October 2) showed Biden up 16 points among likely voters (57-41).
Perhaps the most alarming numbers for the president come from a SurveyUSA national poll that shows Biden up ten points (53-43) among likely voters but Biden’s lead doubling (from eight points to 16) after Trump’s hospitalization.
After months of stability, Biden’s lead in national polling averages has risen to 9 percent at RealClearPolitics (the Democrat’s biggest lead since July) and 8.7 percent at FiveThirtyEight (his biggest lead since August). At this point in 2016, Hillary Clinton led at RCP by 6.2 percent, though it was at the peak of the backlash to the Access Hollywood video.
An equally striking set of polls is coming out of Pennsylvania, the state now most likely to be regarded as the electoral college “tipping point,” as the New York Times’ Nate Cohn observes:
If you’ve been reading along here, you know we’ve been waiting for a Monmouth poll in Pennsylvania. Today, we got it: Joe Biden is leading by eight or 11 points, depending on the turnout scenario … If the Monmouth result is even remotely in the ballpark, it’s a big blow to President Trump’s path to re-election.
Over the last 10 days or so, Mr. Biden has had a great run of polls in Pennsylvania. An ABC/Washington Post survey, two New York Times/Siena polls and one by CBS/YouGov found Mr. Biden up by seven to nine points.
In the past two weeks, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania has grown from 4.5 percent to 6.5 percent. A particularly striking trend is in gold-standard Monmouth polling, where Biden’s lead has roughly doubled in about ten days.
Now, Mr. Trump’s best recent poll in Pennsylvania — the last Monmouth poll — has become his worst. Together, Mr. Biden has led in six straight high-quality polls of Pennsylvania by at least seven percentage points. This is about as clear a picture as we get in state polling. It gives him a clear advantage in states worth more than 270 electoral votes, and therefore in the race for the presidency.
All the polling news isn’t bad for Trump: A post-debate poll of Florida from USA Today/Suffolk shows the two candidates dead even at 45 percent each among likely voters. But all in all, Trump needs a few news cycles that aren’t dominated by negative images of himself.