Joe Biden holds a 10-point lead over President Donald Trump among registered voters in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, but that's sliced in half among those certain to vote, reflecting challenges for Biden in terms of voter commitment and enthusiasm alike.
Trump has his own risks, including sharply negative views of the economy and greater criticism of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. His overall job approval rating is back under water, 45-53% among all Americans, with a seven-point rise in disapproval since late March.
Trump's rating specifically for handling the outbreak is a nearly identical 46-53%, with approval down 5 percentage points and disapproval up 8 in the past two months. The margin worsens in terms of strong sentiment: The number who strongly disapprove of his work on the crisis exceeds those who strongly approve by 15 points, 43 versus 28%.
Neither is popular in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. Forty-two percent of adults see Trump favorably overall, 46% Biden. But more see Trump unfavorably, 55% versus 48% for Biden. And Trump remains poorly rated on a range of personal attributes: About 6 in 10 apiece don't see him as honest and trustworthy, don't think he understands the problems of average Americans and don't think he has the personality and temperament for the job.
That said, 50% see Trump as a strong leader – shy of a majority but up a slight 6 points from last fall, and more than say the same of Biden, 43%. And even with the economy in dire straits, Trump gets 52% approval for handling it, although that's down 5 points since late March, with disapproval up 6, to 44%.
Helpful for Biden is that Americans trust him over Trump to direct the federal government's efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus, 50-42%. The two instead are rated evenly in trust to direct federal government efforts to help the economy recover, 47-47%. But polling this spring has found a greater public priority on controlling the spread of the virus than on restoring the economy.
Economy and COVID-19
The economy's condition was to have been Trump's ace in the hole in the November election. But the number of Americans saying it's in good shape has plummeted from 69% in a Bloomberg survey in early March to 34% in this poll.
That matters: Trump is supported by 73% of registered voters who say the economy is in good shape. Among those who say it's in bad shape, 70% back Biden. (Those economic views, themselves, are highly partisan.)
A statistical analysis called regression finds that views of the condition of the economy are a significant independent predictor of candidate support. Holding other factors constant -- including the usual heavy hitters, partisanship, ideology and race/ethnicity -- having favorable economic views predicts support for Trump.
Another factor is an independent predictor of vote preference as well: The relative prevalence of COVID-19 cases in one's county of residence.
This appears in cross-tabulated data. We split the nation's counties into four equal-sized groups, or quartiles, from those with the most COVID-19 cases to those with the fewest. Among registered voters living in counties with the most cases, Biden leads Trump by 72-24%. In the second-highest quartile, it's 62-35%. In the third quartile, results flip, 53-41%, Trump-Biden. And in the quartile with the fewest cases, it's 60-38%, Trump-Biden.
Part of this reflects that fact that there are more Democrats in harder-hit counties and more Republicans in counties with fewer cases. As noted, however, the regression shows that county-level COVID-19 cases predict vote preference even when controlling for party identification, among other factors.
In all, the presidential contest stands at 53-40%, Biden-Trump, among all adults; 53-43% among those who report being registered to vote; and 51-46% among those who are both registered and certain to vote. The result among registered voters is Biden's best since last fall, improved from a scant +2 points, 49-47%, in late March.
Biden's gains from two months ago have come mainly among independents, moderates and younger women. But, as noted, he faces challenges in commitment and enthusiasm.
Among registered voters who support Trump, 87% say they'd "definitely" vote for him if the election were today (as opposed to probably or possibly supporting him). Definite support slides to 74% for Biden – about where it was for Hillary Clinton in an ABC/Post poll four years ago.
Further, again among registered voters who support Trump, 69% are very enthusiastic about doing so. Strong enthusiasm for Biden, by contrast, is just 34%, a 2-1 margin for Trump on this measure – potentially important because enthusiasm can motivate voter participation.
Indeed, even while he's lost ground overall, strong enthusiasm for Trump among registered voters who support him has gained 14 points since late March, while strong enthusiasm for Biden is up just half as much. It is, though, slightly up; in March Biden's strong enthusiasm was the lowest on record for a Democratic presidential candidate in ABC/Post polls back 20 years.
There are mixed results for Biden from Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders for the nomination. They're as likely as those who preferred Biden in the primaries to back him over Trump. But they're slightly less likely to say they're certain to vote in November, and much less enthusiastic about Biden.
Among the many wildcards in the election is how voting will happen. The public by more than 2-1, 65-30%, supports making it easier for people to cast an absentee ballot or vote by mail instead of going to a polling place to vote. Twice as many strongly support such steps, 49%, as strongly oppose them, 24%.
Trump has opposed expanded mail-in voting, arguing that it's vulnerable to fraud and that its expansion would "lead to the end of our great Republican Party." The comment resonates within his base: Just 33% of Republicans support expanded absentee or mail-in voting. That doubles to 67% of independents and rises further to 87% of Democrats.
Notably among groups, Biden leads by 56-39% among independents who are registered to vote, often a swing group in presidential elections; that's shifted from a dead heat among independents (Biden +1) two months ago. And there's a vast gender gap, Trump +8 among men (52-44%), Biden +28 points among women, 62-34%.
The divisions by sex include a shift toward Biden among younger women, age 18-44; 72% in this group favor the Democrat now, vs. 54% in March.
Differences by racial and ethnic groups remain profound. It's 53-44%, Trump-Biden, among whites who are registered to vote, while Biden is supported by 89% of blacks and 69% of Hispanics. Racial and ethnic minorities have made up a growing share of the electorate, rising from 10% of voters in the national exit poll in 1976 to 29% in 2016.
Biden, further, leads Trump by more than 2-1, 66-30%, among Americans who have been laid off or furloughed without pay since the pandemic began. That's a group with larger numbers of women and racial or ethnic minorities than the population at large.
Another potential factor – given the Electoral College lesson of 2016 -- is the distribution of votes across states. Biden has a vast 65-32% lead among registered voters in the so-called blue states won by Clinton that year, evidence of a Democratic overvote, meaning he's getting more support there than he needs. In the 2016 red states, by contrast -- states that were sufficient for Trump to claim the presidency even while losing the national popular vote -- it's 51-44%, Trump-Biden.
Trump's difficulties on personal attributes are well-established and mostly stable. Biden generally does better – but, at the same time, not particularly well. Fewer than half rate him as honest and trustworthy (48% versus 35% for Trump) or say he understands the problems of people like them (45% versus 38% for Trump).
Biden does better, but still just 53%, on having the personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president (compared with 38% who say that of Trump). And 51% say Biden -- dubbed "Sleepy Joe" by Trump -- has the mental sharpness it takes to serve effectively; 46% say that of Trump.
These weaknesses for Trump are among the factors that have kept his approval rating below 50 percent continuously since he took office -- a first for any president -- and, likewise, have given him the lowest career average presidential approval on record in polls dating to the Truman administration. The questions in the months ahead include whether Biden, with his poor enthusiasm and weak voter commitment, can capitalize on Trump's vulnerabilities; and -- perhaps above all -- the course of the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic alike.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone May 25-28, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 31-24-37 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey's methodology here.