Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at a campaign drive-in event in Detroit, Michigan, the US, October 31 2020. Picture: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER
Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks at a campaign drive-in event in Detroit, Michigan, the US, October 31 2020. Picture: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER

New York — On the eve of polling, Democrat Joe Biden holds a commanding national lead over President Donald Trump amid deep voter concern about Covid-19.

But Trump is keeping his hopes alive by staying competitive in the swing states that could decide the White House race.

Biden’s national lead over the Republican president has stayed steady in recent months.  He is ahead 51% to 43% in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on October 27-29.

But Trump is still close to Biden in enough state battlegrounds to give him the 270 state electoral college votes needed to win a second term. Reuters/Ipsos polls show that the race is a toss-up in Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.

Trump trails by five points in Pennsylvania and nine points in Michigan and Wisconsin, three other battleground states that helped give him an electoral college win in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote.

But even without Michigan and Wisconsin, Trump can win again if he holds all the other states he won in 2016.

Trump’s deficit in the polls has been driven partly by an erosion in support from two big parts of his winning 2016 coalition — whites without a college degree and older Americans — and by public disapproval of his handling of the pandemic, the dominant issue in the race.

Biden and Trump have taken starkly contrasting approaches to managing Covid-19, which has caused more than 227,000 deaths in the US and cost millions of jobs. Trump has repeatedly played down the threat and promised it will end soon. Biden has vowed to prioritise stronger efforts to contain it.

Handle pandemic

More than three-quarters of American adults say they are concerned about the health crisis, and almost 60% disapprove of the way Trump responded to it, Reuters/Ipsos polls show.

Biden earns higher marks than Trump on his ability to handle the pandemic. About 30% of Americans say their vote this year is driven primarily by their perception of who would handle the crisis better.

While Trump still has a slight lead on Biden on who would best manage the economy, that has become a lesser concern for many voters. Only 21% of likely voters say they are looking mostly for a president who is strong on the economy and job creation.

Trump has been unable to avoid blame for the economic slowdown and Covid-19 job losses. Nearly half of likely voters in three of the biggest state battlegrounds — Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina — blame school and business closures on “poor leadership and policy decisions from President Trump”.

Trump’s response to the pandemic has hurt him with older Americans most at risk from the virus. Polls show a four-point Biden lead among voters of 55 and older, Trump carried by 14 points in 2016.

Trump’s advantage with noncollege whites, another big component of his winning coalition in 2016, has dwindled this year. Latest polls show Trump leading among noncollege whites by 18 percentage points, compared with 30  in 2016.

Biden also cut into Trump’s support from college-educated white women, suburban men and independents. Reuters/Ipsos polling shows Biden winning white women college graduates by 27 points, while Clinton won them by 15 points in 2016. Biden also leads by 18 points among independent voters, who Trump won by seven points in 2016.

Biden leads with suburban men by 12 points now. In March, they supported Trump by one point.

“Trump has never been one to try to expand his appeal in any way, and that has been true of his entire presidency and not just the campaign,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant.

“His theory was that he didn’t need to expand his base because the independents who voted for him over Hillary would also vote for him over any liberal Democrat,” he said.

That theory was harder to make a reality against Biden, who ran as a moderate in the crowded Democratic presidential primary against more liberal candidates.

More than a month ago, nearly nine of 10 Biden supporters and nine of 10 Trump supporters said they were “completely certain” they would not change their minds. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll shows only 6% of likely voters are not  backing a major party candidate. Four years ago, the number of similarly undecided voters was three times as high.



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