Joe Biden holds a 17-point lead over Donald Trump in trust to handle the coronavirus pandemic in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, powering the Democrat to a double-digit advantage in vote preference with the presidential election three weeks away.
In the aftermath of his own COVID-19 diagnosis, two-thirds of registered voters say Trump failed to take appropriate precautions against the virus, 62% distrust what he says about it and eight months since its arrival in the United States just 21% say it's under control.
Also damaging to Trump: 58% disapprove of how he's handled the pandemic -- essentially steady since July -- and a new high, 73%, are worried they or an immediate family member might catch the coronavirus (or say it's already happened). Worry about the virus remains a significant independent predictor of support for Biden over Trump.
The presidential race stands at 53%-41%, Biden-Trump, among registered voters, and a similar 54%-42% among likely voters, with minimal support (in the low single digits) for the Libertarian and Green Party candidates. Biden's advantage rests on his support among women, racial and ethnic minorities, independents and an unusually wide lead among moderates.
The race is tied among men, 48%-48% in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, while Biden is up 59%-36% among women, the widest margin among women for any presidential candidate in exit polls dating to 1976. (That includes 62%-34% among suburban women and 54%-41% among suburban white women.) Biden's vast 69%-25% lead among moderates, if it holds, would be a record by far. And his result among independents, while not a statistically significant lead, is the widest for a Democrat in exit polls since 1988.
This poll describes the current contest; it's not remotely close enough to Election Day to be predictive of the outcome. Look no further than 2016: Hillary Clinton held a 12-point lead on Oct. 22, 17 days before the election, following sexual assault allegations against Trump and disclosure of his lewd comments on the "Access Hollywood" tape. That contracted to Trump up by 1 point eight days later, as GOP voters set aside their doubts and returned to his ranks, and Clinton up by 2 points a week before the election.
Trump, moreover, has ammunition: 54% now approve of his handling of the economy, the most since March (albeit by a single percentage point). In contrast with his deficit on the pandemic, he continues to run essentially even with Biden in trust to handle the economy, 48%-47%.
Nearly twice as many registered voters say the economy is the single most important issue in their vote, 29%, as pick the pandemic, 15%. While that's a 6-point increase for the economy as the top issue from Sept. 24, the potential benefit for Trump is mitigated by a 5-point drop in another of his go-to issues, crime and safety, as the top concern.
Trump also still has a substantial enthusiasm advantage; among likely voters, 75% of his supporters are very enthusiastic about him, a new high, versus 60% strong enthusiasm for Biden. That said, while Trump held steady on this measure, Biden's strong enthusiasm inched up by a slight 7 points from late September, and it's advanced from a mere 28% among registered voters back in March.
Strong enthusiasm for Trump far surpasses its level among his supporters at this point in 2016: 47%. Biden, for his part, runs well ahead of Clinton's strong enthusiasm: 43%.
Trump has disconnects beyond his pandemic response. Seventy-nine percent of registered voters say they're prepared to accept the outcome of the election, a commitment Trump has refused to make. And 56% say he has not paid his fair share of taxes, following reporting by The New York Times that he paid $750 in personal income taxes in 2017 and nothing at all in 11 out of 18 years for which it obtained his tax returns.
Eighteen percent say they're either not prepared to accept the election's legitimacy, or it depends on the outcome -- identical to the result in 2016 when Trump, as now, threw shade on the vote count. Still, it's a somewhat bipartisan result -- while 22% of Trump's supporters are unready at this time to accept the outcome as legitimate, so are 16% of Biden's.
And there's the question of Trump's overall job performance. Among all Americans, 44% approve, while 54% disapprove; it's about the same among registered voters and likely voters. This result almost exactly matches vote preferences, underscoring the extent to which the election is a referendum on the incumbent.
That's a major challenge for Trump. His approval rating has been underwater in 22 of 23 ABC/Post polls since he took office; the sole exception was a 48%-46% result in late March, just as the pandemic was taking hold, with economic sentiment about to tank. Trump remains the first president in modern polling data since 1939 never to achieve majority approval, and his career average approval rating as president, 40%, is the lowest on record.
The pandemic is where Trump and the public most consequentially part company. In one example, while Trump has equivocated on mask wearing and social distancing, 74% of registered voters think these steps can substantially reduce their chance of catching the virus. Among likely voters who support Biden, 95% think so; among those who back Trump, it's 46%.
Despite his diagnosis, 59% think Trump is healthy enough to carry out his duties. The issue, though, is his performance -- and concerns there clearly are focused more on the president personally than on the federal government generally. Sixty-three percent of registered voters are very or somewhat confident that the federal government can handle the outbreak, about the same as expected this to be the case in March – even as 58%, as mentioned, disapprove of Trump's handling of the issue.
The 21% who say the outbreak is completely or mostly under control is up from 14% in August, but many miles from a positive result. Impacts of this assessment are profound: Among people who think the outbreak is completely or mostly under control, 90% support Trump for reelection. Among those who think it's somewhat under control it's a close 51%-43%, Trump-Biden. And among those who think it's not at all under control -- more than a third of likely voters -- 91% pick Biden.
Biden's best support groups among likely voters in this survey are Democrats (96%), liberals (93%), Black people (87%), those with a post-graduate degree (73%), moderates (69%) and city residents (65%). (Blacks from the last two ABC/Post polls are combined for an adequate sample size.)
Trump's supporters, conversely, are Republicans (90%), conservatives (84%), evangelical white Protestants (79%), rural residents (58%) and those with no more than a high school diploma (57%). Notable here is that Trump loses 9% of Republicans to Biden, while Biden loses 4% of Democrats to Trump -- although it's that 12-point Biden lead among independents that makes the big difference.
It stands out, as well, that the race has evened up among men, a group in which Trump has led in every previous ABC/Post poll save one this cycle; and is even among whites, 49%-47%, Trump-Biden. In exit polls since 1976, only one Democrat, Bill Clinton, has done that well among whites.
Trump is a slight +11 points among white men, Biden, a non-significant +7 among white women. The far bigger gap among whites is on the basis of education: Among whites who have a four-year college degree, Biden leads by 2-to-1, 63%-32%. Among those without a degree, the result is almost exactly reversed, 61%-35%, Trump-Biden. The result among college-educated whites is another case of the largest Democratic lead compared with exit poll results in the last 11 presidential elections.
In another potentially key group, white Catholics divide 51%-45%, Biden-Trump. Only two previous Democrats have done as well with white Catholics in the last 44 years, both winners -- Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Clinton in 1996.
Compared just with 2016, Biden outpaces Clinton's performance among many groups, including whites, women, men, independents, moderates, voters younger than 65 and white Catholics alike. (Among registered voters in this survey, 48% report having voted for Clinton in 2016, 44% for Trump -- very near the 48%-46% actual vote.)
A last question is how people vote: Just 40% of likely voters now say they plan to vote on Election Day, a historical low if it's borne out. Fifty-eight percent instead say they'll vote early or already have voted (6%). Compared with last month, slightly more say they'll vote (or have voted) early in person (21%); and another 23% by mail.
It matters: As has been the case all year, there's a vast difference in vote preferences. Traditional Election Day voters support Trump over Biden by 64%-32%. Those who vote early support Biden by an even wider margin, 70%-26%.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Oct. 6 to 9, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 879 registered voters, including 725 likely voters. Results have margins of sampling error of 3.5 points among registered voters and 4.0 points among likely voters, including design effects. Partisan divisions are 32%-29%-34%, Democrats-Republicans-independents, among registered voters and 35%-30%-30% among likely voters.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Maryland. See details on the survey's methodology here.