Close contest in Wisconsin; in Minnesota, not so much: Poll

Biden has a wide lead in Minnesota, while Trump draws even in Wisconsin.

September 16, 2020, 6:00 AM

It's a close contest in Wisconsin heading into the final seven weeks of the 2020 presidential campaign, while women, suburban residents and independents are among the groups lifting Joe Biden to a substantial lead in Minnesota, according to a pair of new ABC News/Washington Post polls.

Views on the economy and the coronavirus pandemic define the race, and the course of both may prove decisive. And turnout is a wildcard: As is the case nationally, President Donald Trump benefits from much greater enthusiasm among his supporters, who are far more apt to plan to vote on Election Day. That makes Biden's ability to mobilize early and absentee voting central to the outcome.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables.

Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by fewer than 23,000 votes out of 3 million cast. Today Biden has 52% support among likely voters there, with 46% for Trump -- not a statistically significant difference given the survey's margin of sampling error. In Minnesota, by contrast, Biden holds a clear advantage, 57%-41%, in what's been a hoped-for Trump pickup after his narrow 45,000-vote loss four years ago.

Results are very similar among the broader pool of registered voters, with Biden-Trump at 50%-46% in Wisconsin and 57%-40% in Minnesota in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.

This survey was produced via random-sample telephone interviewing, with about 75% of calls to cell phones, weighted to census norms for sex, age, race/ethnicity, education and region. See methodological details below.

One factor in Biden's strength in Minnesota is his broad advantage there in how much he's trusted to handle the pandemic -- 58%-36% over Trump among registered voters, compared with a close 49%-42% in Wisconsin. That gap in Minnesota overwhelms a dead heat in trust on the economy.

About six in 10 registered voters in both states express worry that they or a family member might catch the coronavirus, and more than half rate the national economy negatively -- two factors that independently predict support for Biden.

PHOTO: Supporters of President Donald Trump participate in a boat parade on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, along the Fox River in Green Bay, Wisc.
Supporters of President Donald Trump participate in a boat parade on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, along the Fox River in Green Bay, Wisc.
Ebony Cox/Green Bay Press-Gazette via USA Today Network

Further, both states have been gripped by protests over police treatment of Black people after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month. Registered voters support such protests by 55%-40% in Minnesota, compared with a close 51%-44% in Wisconsin, and trust Biden over Trump to handle equal treatment of racial groups by 24 percentage points in Minnesota, shrinking to about half that margin, 10 points, in Wisconsin.

Underscoring Trump's challenges in Minnesota, Biden also leads there, by 11 points, in trust to handle crime and safety, while in Wisconsin the two are tied on this issue.


There are differences among groups in these neighboring states. Suburban likely voters pick Trump by a non-significant 9 points in Wisconsin, compared with a 16-point lead for Biden in the Minnesota suburbs. And independents, often swing voters, split in Wisconsin, a close 50%-46%, Trump-Biden, while backing Biden by 21 points next door.

Underlying sentiments explain these gaps. True to their states' longstanding political differences, independents in Minnesota are 12 points more apt than those in Wisconsin to lean toward the Democratic Party, while Wisconsin suburbanites are 14 points more apt than their Minnesota counterparts to be conservatives. Minnesota last voted for a Republican for president in 1972.

In both states, there's a vast gender gap between the candidates; while men divide closely, Biden leads Trump among women by 60%-39% in Wisconsin and 67%-31% in Minnesota. Suburban women, notably, are evenly divided in Wisconsin, but favor Biden by a vast 40 points in Minnesota.

More Groups

Among other groups, non-college-educated white men have been a core support bloc for Trump, and remain so -- but he's lost a great deal of support since 2016 among non-college white women in these states, as well as among college-educated white men and women alike.

Trump's gone from a 27-point win among non-college whites in Minnesota four years ago to essentially a dead heat in this group now. And while Hillary Clinton won college-educated whites there by 9 points, Biden's now ahead in this group by 39 points. In Wisconsin, Trump is a non-significant +10 points among non-college whites, vs. +28 points in 2016. And Biden is +23 points among college-educated whites, compared with Clinton's +12.

Among non-college whites, the differences from 2016 are an extension of Trump's weakness among women generally. Biden leads by 59%-40% among non-college white women in Minnesota -- a reversal from 2016. In Wisconsin, it's Biden by 54%-45% among non-college white women, also a reversal from the last election.

People of other racial and ethnic backgrounds make up small shares of likely voters in both states, 10% in Wisconsin and 13% in Minnesota. About two-thirds support Biden.

Another sharp difference from 2016, in both states, is among moderates. In 2016 these voters backed Clinton by a mere 5 points in Minnesota, 10 points in Wisconsin. Today moderates support Biden by a remarkable 57-point margin, 76%-19%, in Minnesota, and an also-broad 42 points, 69%-27%, in Wisconsin. Here, gender is not a factor; Biden holds wide leads among moderate men and women alike.

Seniors also differ from 2016, when they split essentially evenly between Trump and Clinton in both states. Today likely voters age 65 and older divide by 64%-35% for Biden over Trump in Minnesota and by 58%-41% in Wisconsin.

Military voters have been of increased interest since the publication of allegations that Trump disparaged military service in private conversations, which he has denied. While 2016 comparisons aren't available, Trump does better against Biden in military households than in non-military ones in both states. In contrast, there are no significant differences comparing another group, union vs. non-union households.


Preferences can change. In ABC News/Washington Post national polling in 2016, a 12-point lead for Hillary Clinton on Oct. 22, 17 days before the election, contracted to Trump +1 eight days later, as GOP voters set aside the issue of Trump's lewd comments on the Access Hollywood tape and returned to his ranks. A week before the election it was Clinton +2, and ultimately Clinton won the popular vote by 2 points, while Trump won the Electoral College with key victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Among other factors this year, Biden's competitive position comes from people who intend to vote early in person or by mail. Among those who intend to vote on Election Day, Trump leads by a wide 67%-29% in Wisconsin and 60%-38% in Minnesota. Among intended early and absentee voters -- who make up 44% of likely voters in Wisconsin and 39% in Minnesota -- 79% or more back Biden.

PHOTO: In this photo provided by Wisconsin Watch, election workers Jeff and Lori Lutzka, right, process absentee ballots at Milwaukee's central count facility on Aug. 11, 2020.
In this photo provided by Wisconsin Watch, election workers Jeff and Lori Lutzka, right, process absentee ballots at Milwaukee's central count facility on Aug. 11, 2020.
Will Cioci/Wisconsin Watch via AP, FILE

The question is whether they'll make the effort. While two-thirds of Trump's supporters are very enthusiastic about supporting him, strong enthusiasm for Biden falls sharply, to 50% in Wisconsin and 44% in Minnesota -- a persistent disadvantage for the Democrat.

As an example, limiting the likely voter pool to voters who are very or somewhat enthusiastic about their choice brings the race to a scant +4 points for Biden in Wisconsin and +12 points in Minnesota. Tightening it further, to only very enthusiastic supporters, puts Trump slightly ahead in Wisconsin and essentially tied in Minnesota.


As is typical in an incumbent election, vote preferences closely reflect views of Trump's performance in office. Among registered voters in Minnesota, 40% approve of his work in office, while 59% disapprove. In Wisconsin, it's a close 46%-52%. Results are similar among likely voters.

The president's ratings differ by topic. Even with the pandemic-related recession, he gets narrow majority approval for handling the economy in Wisconsin, 53%-46%, and about an even split in Minnesota, 47%-49%, approve-disapprove. Compare that with the pandemic itself: on this, 54% in Wisconsin and 60% in Minnesota disapprove of Trump's work.


Trust on these issues likewise differs. As noted, in Minnesota, Biden leads Trump by 22 points in trust to handle the coronavirus, as well as 24 points on equal treatment of racial groups, 17 points on handling health care, 14 points on discouraging violence at political protests and 11 points on crime and safety. It's a dead heat on the economy. In Wisconsin, the two are closer on each issue.


Among five of these issues tested for their priority, all matter. In both states, just short of three in 10 identify the economy as the most important issue in their vote, two in 10 pick the pandemic and 12% to 16% each name health care, crime and safety and equal treatment of racial minorities.

Vote preferences among issue groups differ profoundly. Likely voters who cite the economy as their top issue favor Trump by overwhelming margins -- 88%-12% in Wisconsin and 78%-18% in Minnesota. By contrast, Biden wins about 90% of those who pick the pandemic as the most important issue. It's Trump by a huge margin among crime and safety voters; Biden by equally lopsided numbers among those focused on health care and equal treatment. The rationale for their campaign rhetoric seems clear.


The role of the top two issues is evident another way. Among likely voters who rate the economy positively (42% in Minnesota, 45% in Wisconsin), Trump leads Biden by wide margins; among those who are little worried or unworried that they or a family member might catch the coronavirus (32% in Minnesota, 37% in Wisconsin), it's Trump again overwhelmingly. But among their majority opposites, Biden has three-quarters support or more.

PHOTO: A supporter wears a mask of President Donald Trump on Aug. 17, 2020, in Mankato, Minn.
A supporter wears a mask of President Donald Trump on Aug. 17, 2020, in Mankato, Minn.
Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

As in national ABC News/Washington Post polls, in a statistical analysis called regression, views on the condition of the economy and concerns about catching the coronavirus independently predict vote choices, even when controlling for demographic factors including the three traditional heavy hitters in presidential vote preference -- partisanship, ideology and race/ethnicity.

Protest Support

Views on another issue also interact with vote choices. People who back recent protests over police treatment of Black people support Biden by 80%-17% in Wisconsin and 86%-12% in Minnesota. That flips among those who oppose such protests; about three-quarters support Trump.

As noted, 55% of registered voters in Minnesota and 51% in Wisconsin support the protests. These views are sharply partisan and ideological in both states, with support reaching about two-thirds or more among liberals, Democrats and liberal-leaning groups such as city dwellers, young people and those with more education. Opposition peaks among Republicans and conservatives. Six in 10 Minnesota independents support the protests; it's 51% among their counterparts in Wisconsin.


State differences also emerge in assessments of the candidates' personal attributes. In Minnesota, Biden leads Trump by double digits in being more honest and trustworthy (+22 points) and better understanding the problems of people like you (+18) -- but that shrinks to a slight 7 points on who's the stronger leader.

Reflecting the tighter race in Wisconsin, Biden leads Trump by a narrower 11 points in being more honest and trustworthy. And the two are in a virtual dead heat when it comes to being the stronger leader (+3 for Trump) or having more empathy (+5, Biden).


Preferences differ sharply by state region. In Minnesota, Biden holds a commanding 60-point lead in the traditionally Democratic Twin Cities core, while Trump holds a 31-point advantage in northern Minnesota, which he carried by 23 points in 2016. The race is tighter in the historically competitive eastern Twin Cities suburbs and in the south, where Biden's lead narrows to non-significant 10- and 12-point margins, respectively.

In Wisconsin, Biden maintains strong leads in Dane County and Milwaukee. Trump leads by 21 points in Chiwaukee suburbs, home to the recent Kenosha protests. Trump is numerically ahead in northern Wisconsin, while the race is virtually tied in the often competitive southwest and Fox River Valley regions.

When to vote?

As noted, roughly four in 10 likely voters in these states say they intend to vote early or absentee. That far outstrips rates of early voting seen in 2016, which were 27% in Wisconsin and 23% in Minnesota.

With both states permitting no-excuse absentee voting, the most popular early voting method is by mail, preferred by 21% in Wisconsin and 24% in Minnesota. Other intended early voters split between voting in-person before Election Day (9% in Wisconsin and 7% in Minnesota) or taking their ballot to a drop box (14% and 7%).

PHOTO: A woman holds a sign that reads "Minnesota for Biden" as protesters gather in downtown while President Donald Trump makes a campaign stop at Mankato Regional Airport on Aug. 17, 2020, in Mankato, Minn.
A woman holds a sign that reads "Minnesota for Biden" as protesters gather in downtown while President Donald Trump makes a campaign stop at Mankato Regional Airport on Aug. 17, 2020, in Mankato, Minn.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images, FILE

As noted, most of those choosing early or absentee methods favor Biden, with margins of +60 points in Wisconsin and +73 points in Minnesota. That reverses among Election Day voters, to +38 and +22 for Trump, respectively. Looking at it another way, most Biden voters in each state say they'll vote early, 68% and 59%, while most Trump voters say they'll vote on Election Day, 75% and 86%.

As elsewhere, increased early voting raises the possibility that election results may be delayed as the influx of absentee votes is counted. And the differences between Trump and Biden voters in their intended vote method suggests that intermediate election night counts may be far from the actual outcome.


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone interviews Sept. 8-13, 2020, among random samples of 705 Minnesota registered voters, including 615 likely voters; and 702 Wisconsin registered voters, including 605 likely voters. Results have margins of sampling error, in Minnesota, of 4.0 percentage points among registered voters and 4.5 among likely voters; and in Wisconsin, of 4.5 points for both groups, including design effects.

Partisan divisions -- Democrats-Republicans-independents -- are 34%-29%-30% among registered voters and 35%-31%-28% among likely voters in Minnesota and 31%-27%-34% among registered voters and 34%-27%-31% among likely voters in Wisconsin.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey's methodology here.

This report was featured in the Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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