Poll: Biden Ahead in Rust Belt, but Presidential Race a Deadlock Among ‘Likely Voters’

Biden leads among registered voters, but enthusiasm gap in favor of Trump tightens race to deadlock among likely voters
September 18, 2020 Updated: September 21, 2020

Vice President Joe Biden holds an overall 6-point lead (46.7 percent to 40.7 percent) among registered voters in the Rust Belt (Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), according to an Epoch Times poll conducted by Big Data Poll between Sept. 11 and 15.

However, among likely voters with no undecideds, the race between the two candidates tightens to nearly dead-even (48.7 percent to 48.6 percent), fueled by greater enthusiasm among Trump voters.

In 2016, Trump won 48.5 percent of the total vote in the six Rust Belt states, compared to 46 percent for the Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton. Trump became the first Republican nominee to carry Michigan and Pennsylvania since 1988 and was the first to carry Wisconsin since 1984. Clinton held on to win by 1.5 percentage points in Minnesota, the one state in this group not to vote for the Republican nominee in 1984.

The difference in enthusiasm for the candidates is significant. Trump leads 52.9 percent to 45 percent among the 51.2 percent of registered Rust Belt voters who say they are “Extremely Enthusiastic” about voting for their preferred candidate. Among likely voters who are extremely enthusiastic, the president enjoys a double-digit advantage—60.5 percent to 44.9 percent.

“In typical election years, extreme enthusiasm gaps this large can prove very consequential to turnout,” Big Data Poll Director Rich Baris said in a statement. “It’s unclear whether widespread changes to mail-in voting this year will help blunt the effects of that enthusiasm.”

“What is clear is that the president’s supporters are absolutely going to turn out to vote,” Baris said.

Nearly 8 in 10 supporters of the president (78.8 percent) say their vote is a vote “for” the candidate. Less than half the supporters of the former vice president (46.9 percent) cited the same motivation. Fewer than 2 in 10 supporters of the president (16.9 percent) say their vote is “against the opponent,” juxtaposed with nearly half of voters (47.8 percent) supporting the challenger who said the same.

Voters Expect Trump to Win in November

As in The Epoch Times National Poll, both registered and likely voters expect the incumbent to win reelection in November: 44.1 percent of registered voters, versus 41.5 percent who think Biden will win, and 44.4 percent of likely voters, versus 41.7 percent who think Biden will win.

That’s noteworthy, given the well-documented predictive value of voter expectations questions. As Brookings Institute and many others have researched and discovered​, voters’ expectations of who will win a presidential election can often hold more predictive value than voters’ intentions.

Democrats Lead Generic Ballot in Rust Belt

Democrats hold a 4.3 percentage point lead on the Generic Congressional Ballot among all registered voters in the Rust Belt, 45.8 percent to 41.3 percent. Among likely voters with no undecideds, the Democratic lead holds, but the margin tightens to 1.4 percentage points—48.1 percent to 46.7 percent.

Trump Overperforming Among Likely Voters

As was the case in 2016, the polling at a glance seems to suggest the president will underperform Republican candidates running in Rust Belt districts for the U.S. House of Representatives. The GOP benefits more from its nominee’s unorthodox working-class message than he does from the traditional Republican coalition.

But a closer look among likely voters indicates the actual vote may prove history is repeating itself. On net, the president runs 1.9 percentage points ahead of Republican candidates, or 48.6 percent to 46.7 percent.

Economy and Jobs Top the List for Top Voting Issues

More voters cited the “Economy and Jobs” as the issue most important to their vote in November at 33.8 percent, beating out “coronavirus” at 22.9 percent, “Health Care” at 19.2 percent, and “Policing and Crime” at 8.5 percent. Notably, policing and crime is cited by a larger percentage in Minnesota, at 10.2 percent.

When asked to rank each issue from the most to least important, the economy and jobs remain at the top and coronavirus falls to third behind health care at second most important. While remaining in fourth, the rank distribution score for policing and crime is on the rise.

“The rank distribution scores can help to underscore the inevitable trend in voters’ priorities,” Baris said in a statement. “The more the president makes this election about the economy and jobs and policing and crime, the more likely it is he will be reelected. The more this election is about coronavirus and healthcare in general, the more likely it is Mr. Biden will be the next president.”

Nearly 70 percent (69.9 percent) of likely voters who cited the economy and jobs as their top issues are supporting Trump, as are 64.2 percent of those who cited policing and crime. Biden enjoys similarly commanding leads among those citing health care (59.5 percent) and coronavirus (79.6 percent) as their top issues.

The Epoch Times Rust Belt Poll was conducted by Big Data Poll, which interviewed 2,191 registered voters and 1,440 likely voters in the Midwest via online panel targeting Iowa (7 percent), Michigan (20 percent), Minnesota (12 percent), Ohio (23 percent), Pennsylvania (26 percent) and Wisconsin (12 percent). The sampling error is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points for registered voters and plus or minus 2.6 percent points for likely voters, at a 95 percent confidence interval.

For more information on the methodology and survey design, please refer to the AAPOR Transparency Initiative Checklist, for an overview of survey results click here.