Today we are making two ratings changes in Pres. Trump's favor, moving Florida from Lean Democrat to Toss Up, and Nevada from Likely Democrat to Lean Democrat.
Biden's Electoral College lead has narrowed to 279 to 187 for Trump. Earlier this summer, Biden held a 308 to 187 lead.
(Full chart here)
For the last four years, all eyes have been trained on the states that President Trump narrowly carried (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Florida), but relatively little attention has been paid to the three states that Hillary Clinton barely won (New Hampshire, Minnesota and Nevada).
There have been only four polls conducted in New Hampshire since April. The last live-caller survey done in Minnesota was a Fox News poll in July. An online Survey USA poll out this week put Biden ahead of Trump by nine points.
But, Nevada wins the award for the most under-polled. According to FiveThirtyEight, there's been only one public poll conducted in the Silver State since April. That poll, a UNLV Lee Business School online survey (August 20-30), showed Biden leading Trump by five points, 44 percent to 39 percent.
Yet, there are signs that this state has become more competitive in recent weeks. According to data provided to the Cook Political Report by the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics, the Trump campaign outspent Biden on the Nevada airwaves in June and July $2.4M to $225,000. By August, however, the Biden campaign was on TV in a big way — spending $2M. They have booked another $2.2M for September and $1.6M for October. The Trump campaign was dark in August but has pre-booked $1.5M for September and another $3.7M for October. President Trump is planning to hold rallies in Nevada this weekend.
There are plenty of reasons for why the Biden campaign should be nervous about their hold on this state. First, Nevada — with its tourism-based economy — was hit extraordinarily hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of August, the state's unemployment rate was almost twice as high as the national average. Many folks are more worried about how they are going to be able to keep a roof over their head or food on the table. The upcoming election is probably not high on their priority list.
The pandemic also meant that traditional ground game activities — like voter registration drives in and around the casinos, churches and other gathering places — can no longer be employed.
Jon Ralston, the editor of the Nevada Independent (and guru of all things Nevada), tells me that "the pandemic turned off the Democratic machine here for almost half the year. Voter registration has essentially been a draw, slight Republican advantage, since March." Democrats are still "well ahead" in total registration in the state, says Ralston, but had the pandemic not hit, Democrats "could have put it out of reach."
Another Democratic strategist who has done a lot of work in the state echoed Ralston's observations. The traditional GOTV operation for Democrats is a very high touch, personal engagement process says this source. That’s tough to do when people are unable to gather in groups. Or, when many of the workplaces that were once high-traffic areas for outreach, casinos and restaurants, have been shuttered. The Culinary Union, a powerful political force for Democrats in the state, has been consumed with pushing through legislation to extend health care and other benefits to their employees who have been furloughed or laid off. That has likely meant less time and effort on political outreach.
The other issue: the Latino vote. These voters are the backbone of any Democratic win in the state. Even as exit polling showed Clinton losing white voters by 18 points, she was able to eke out a 2.4 percentage point win thanks to her success with Latino and African American voters. According to exit polling, Latino voters made up 18 percent of the electorate and Clinton carried these voters by 31 points (60-29 percent).
An analysis of the state's electorate conducted by Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin for American Progress, predicts that in 2020, the share of the Latino vote will grow about two points, while the share of the white, non-college vote (the largest group of voters at 43 percent in 2016), will drop three points
Biden struggled with Latino voters in the Caucuses earlier this year. He took just 17 percent of the Latino vote in the to Sanders' 50 percent. It doesn't mean that Biden can't win over these voters, but, his campaign is going to have to spend time and energy introducing and selling the former Vice President to them. They shouldn't be considered just a GOTV target — but a persuasion target.
Nevada Independent's Ralston says of the Latino vote, "it always seems to be iffy for the Dems here until it reaches critical mass shortly before the election as the persuasion takes hold. Team Trump, like all Republicans, wants to get into mid-30s [with Latino voters]. Not impossible, but the Dem machine will ramp up and there are lots of folks here who know how to do this kind of communication." Those experienced Democrats are what helps at least one Democratic source I spoke with, feel a lot better about Biden's prospects in Nevada. "Thank God," this person told me, "they have a functioning state party."
One other interesting wrinkle/unknown this year: for the first time every registered voter in the state will receive an absentee ballot in the mail. No one knows how this will impact turnout in the state, but it's clear that the president and his campaign believe it will benefit only Democrats.
Soon after the law was passed on a party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled legislature and signed by the Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, Pres. Trump took to Twitter, calling the vote “an illegal late night coup” that “made it impossible for Republicans to win in the state.” The Trump campaign sued to block the entire law in August but last week narrowed the scope of the lawsuit to “instead focus its fire on the section allowing mail votes without a clear postmark date to be accepted if they’re received within three days after Election Day.”
Bottom line: given all the uncertainty swirling around that state, and the increased attention both the Trump campaign and Biden camp are paying here, this race should be considered more competitive. It moves from Likely Democrat to Lean Democrat.
It is always tempting fate to put Florida, the state that no one has won by more than five points in 20 years, in anything but Toss Up. But, when we moved this race from Toss Up to Lean Democrat in July, we were looking at a presidential race that was not close.
Dragged down by his mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis and the protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Trump was mired in some of the worst ratings of his presidency.
Many national GOPers we talked with during July feared that Trump had hit the point of no return. A couple of GOPers we spoke with wondered if Trump had reached his "Katrina" moment: a permanent loss of trust and faith of the majority of voters. There was a fear that Trump would continue to drop in the polls.
At that time, when the FiveThirtyEight average put Biden ahead of Trump by seven points in the state, I wrote that while Trump was the underdog, "[i]f things on the coronavirus front start to improve, he may be able to win some of those voters back."
Well, here we are a couple months later, and Trump’s image in the state and on the ballot standing have improved. A July St. Pete Polls survey put Biden ahead of Trump by six points (50-44 percent). This week, St. Pete Polls showed that lead cut in half (50 percent Biden to 47 percent Trump). A July Quinnipiac poll put Biden’s lead at 13 points (51 percent to 38 percent). Today, Biden has a more modest 3-point lead, 48-45 percent. And Marist, in its first survey in Florida this year, had the race tied at 48 percent.
The Quinnipiac and Marist polls show Trump’s job approval at 46-47 percent, 3-4 points higher than his national job approval average.
Most importantly, the Quinnipiac survey found significant improvement for Trump on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In July, just 37 percent of Florida voters approved of the job Trump was doing on the issue while 59 percent disapproved. Today, 46 percent approve of his response to coronavirus and 51 percent disapprove, a 17-point improvement.
All three polls also show Biden underperforming with Latino voters, although by how much is in dispute. The 2016 Florida exit polls showed Clinton trouncing Trump with Latino voters by 27 points (62 percent to 35 percent). But the 2016 States Of Change analysis by Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin put Clinton’s margin among Florida’s Hispanic voters at 19 points (57 to 38 percent). The St. Pete, Marist and Quinnipiac polls show Biden’s lead anywhere from just 2 (Quinnipiac) to 12 points (St. Pete Polls).
But a survey of over 1,000 Latino voters in the Sunshine state, conducted for Equis Research, a progressive organization focused on LatinX voters, found Biden leading Trump among these voters 53-37 percent. While Biden’s showing is anywhere from 4 to 9 points below Clinton’s share of the vote in 2016, Trump’s 37 percent is basically in line with what he got in 2016. In other words, it’s best to look at this as Biden underperforming with Latinos rather than Trump improving his standing with them.
Not surprisingly, the Equis poll found Trump doing best in Miami, which has a substantial Cuban and Venezuelan population. Many insiders think that Trump's attacks on the Democratic party's 'socialist' agenda is part of the reason for this. But, Carlos Odio of Equis Research tells me that their research has found that "the "socialism" attack resonates with a core set of voters, but beyond them seems to stand up poorly to even average Democratic arguments." Odio argues that "there was a shift in partisan support from 2016 to 2018 among some Florida Hispanics, especially Cubans in Miami-Dade who had been skeptical of Trump during 2016 but came around (some combination of (a) tough talk on socialism, (b) bluster on Cuba and Venezuela, (c) good economy + tax cuts). But there isn't evidence that the "socialism" charge has grown Trump's vote beyond that point."
And, as our friends at NBC note in "First Read" the fact that the Marist poll shows "Trump is losing Florida seniors by 1 point among likely voters (when he won them by 17 points in 2016, per the exit poll)" and Biden is getting "41 percent among all white voters in Florida (when Hillary Clinton got 32 percent of them in the Sunshine State)" is just as relevant.
The question is will it be easier for Trump to get back white voters and seniors or for Biden to match Clinton's margin with Latinos.
Bottom line: a more competitive Florida contest is good news for Pres. Trump, who can't afford to lose this state. Even so, many Democrats never expected Biden to be able to win here, having long written off the Sunshine State as a loser. This isn't to say that Biden can't win here. Or that Trump is certain to lose it. The race is simply too close to call. It moves from Lean Democratic to Toss Up.
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