Overwhelming support in Philadelphia and its suburbs lift former Vice President Joe Biden to a clear lead in crucial Pennsylvania, with backing from college-educated white people and women -- notably white, moderate and suburban women -- central to his advantage in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
President Donald Trump, for his part, is suffering attrition among his 2016 supporters; 8% of them now back Biden instead. While a small slice of the electorate, it’s a potentially important factor in a state Trump won by 44,292 votes out of nearly 6.2 million cast four years ago.
Likely voters support Biden over Trump by 54 to 45%, almost exactly matching a national ABC/Post poll released Sunday. The result includes more than a 2 to 1 Biden lead in the populous Philadelphia suburbs, home to nearly a quarter of likely voters, and close results in northeastern and western Pennsylvania, leaving only the conservative center of the state clearly to Trump.
With the first presidential debate Tuesday night in Cleveland, the poll marks Trump’s challenges in Pennsylvania, also reflected in the crucial Midwest and indeed nationally. Sixty percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania say the economy is hurting, 62% are worried about catching the coronavirus and 54% support protests against police treatment of Black people. Each aids Biden.
Trump’s chief task, though, is to overcome majority disapproval of his first-term performance. As is the case nationally, his overall job approval rating is well under water in Pennsylvania -- 43 to 55%, approve-disapprove. And it’s 42 to 57% for his handling of the pandemic.
A shift from 2016 underscores Trump’s difficulty. Likely voters in this survey who report having voted four years ago say they backed Trump over Hillary Clinton by 50 to 47% -- close to the actual result, 48 to 47%. Today, Clinton voters favor Biden by 98 to 1%, but Trump slips, his 2016 supporters divide by 92 to 8%.
Like all pre-election polls, this survey measures current preferences among estimated likely voters; either or both can change. It’s an open question, for instance, whether Sunday’s New York Times report on Trump’s tax returns -- a day after interviews were completed -- has any impact.
Trump does have ammunition in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates: A 20-point advantage in strong enthusiasm among his supporters, 53% approval for handling the economy, solid backing in his base and a clear lead among voters who plan to cast their ballot in person on Election Day.
That said, Biden’s lackluster enthusiasm may be counterbalanced by antipathy toward Trump. Pennsylvania registered voters who strongly disapprove of the president’s job performance outnumber strong approvers by 17 percentage points, 49 to 32%. It’s similar nationally.
Biden, further, may gain some energy from the pending replacement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. Contrary to Trump and his party’s current course, 53% of registered voters in the state say the seat should be filled by the election winner and the next Senate, not by Trump and the current Senate. Moreover, 61% of Biden’s supporters say this issue makes it more important to them that Biden wins; fewer Trump supporters, 41%, say the same about their candidate. National results, again, are roughly similar.
One difference in Pennsylvania is the large share of registered voters planning to cast ballots in person on Election Day -- 65% (and 67% among likely voters), compared with 45% of registered voters nationally. It’s also been lower, though in a wide range, in other ABC/Post polls this month -- 59% in Minnesota and 51% in Wisconsin, dropping to 38% in Florida and 33% in Arizona.
It can matter: Intended Election Day voters favor Trump over Biden by 60 to 39%. Those who plan to vote early, by contrast, favor Biden by a remarkable 87 to 13%. Ensuring that those early and absentee votes are cast and counted is a central concern for the Biden campaign.
Unlike some elections in which a single issue dominates, a mix of concerns is at play. Twenty-five percent of Pennsylvania registered voters cite the economy as the top issue; for 18%, it’s the pandemic. Twelve to 14% pick either crime and safety, equal treatment of racial groups or health care. Nine percent say it’s the next appointment to the high court.
Trump and Biden run approximately evenly in trust to handle two of these, the economy -- 49 to 48%, Trump-Biden -- and crime and safety -- 50 to 47%, Biden-Trump. It’s Biden +9 points on the next Supreme Court appointment, +14 points on handling the pandemic, +17 points on health care and +20 points in trust to handle equal treatment of racial groups.
Even with that roughly even head-to-head match on the economy, likely voters who cite the economy as the most important issue in their vote back Trump by 84 to 16%; this and crime and safety are his best issues. Those who focus on the pandemic back Biden, 93 to 5%, and he leads by a wide margin among those who cite health care and equal treatment as well.
As mentioned, views on the economy, the pandemic and protests against police misconduct all are important -- attitudes on each of these independently predict candidate choice in a statistical model controlling for partisanship, ideology, race/ethnicity and other demographic variables.
That’s also reflected in direct vote-preference results: Biden leads by 69 points among those who rate the economy negatively, 73 points among those who support the protests and 51 points among those worried about catching the coronavirus -- majority groups in each case. Trump leads by wide margins among their opposites.
Demographically, women, college-educated and moderate voters are key elements of Biden’s support.
The Democrat leads among women by 61 to 38%, while men divide far more closely, 53 to 46% Trump-Biden, a wide 30-point gender gap. Among white people only, men favor Trump by a wide 60 to 39%, while white women support Biden by 56 to 43%.
The gap is narrower in the suburbs, but notable nonetheless, given that suburban residents account for six in 10 likely voters in the state. The race is essentially a dead heat among suburban men -- 51 to 49%, Trump-Biden -- while it’s 59 to 41%, Biden-Trump, among suburban woman. That produces an overall result in the suburbs of 54 to 45%, exactly matching the race statewide.
Regionally, Biden’s ahead by 69 to 31% in the Philadelphia suburbs, compared with Clinton’s 55 to 42% there four years ago. Biden’s also improved on Clinton’s result in western Pennsylvania, while the race in the state’s other regions are more similar to what it was four years ago.
Trump cruises among conservatives, with 87% support, as does Biden among liberals, 92%. Moderates divide by a wide margin in Biden’s favor, 63 to 35%, with another broad gender gap. Biden’s +7 points among moderate men balloons to +47 among moderate women, a 40-point gap.
Other divisions also are broad. Among likely voters who haven’t gone beyond high school, it’s Trump +18 points; among those with college degrees, Biden +29. And it’s about even, 51 to 48%, Trump-Biden, among white people, while Biden leads by a wide margin among racial and ethnic minorities.
The shift from 2016 among college-educated white people is especially telling. In the ABC News exit poll in Pennsylvania four years ago, this group divided exactly evenly, 48 to 48%. Among likely voters today, college-educated white people support Biden by 61 to 38%. That includes a 63 to 35% race among college-educated white women. But here, the big shift is among college-educated white men. They backed Trump by 56 to 39% in 2016. Today that’s almost exactly reversed, 57 to 42% in Biden’s favor.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone interviews Sept. 21-26, 2020 among a random sample of 702 Pennsylvania registered voters and 567 likely voters. Results have margins of sampling error of 4.5 points among registered voters and 5.0 points among likely voters. Partisan divisions -- Democrats-Republicans-independents -- are 38-32-23% among registered voters and 39-34-21% among likely voters.