As Democrat Joe Biden formally accepts his party’s presidential nomination, a new Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll shows him with a narrow lead over Republican President Donald Trump in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania.
Biden drew support from 49% percent of likely state voters and 45% backed Trump, when those leaning toward a particular candidate were included. That four-point gap is within the poll’s margin of error.
A majority of likely voters said the president does not deserve re-election, and rated his response to the coronavirus pandemic as “poor.”
But Trump is buoyed in the key swing state by voters who say the economy is their top concern and overwhelmingly perceive their personal economic situation as the same or better than it was when he took office, said Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. Those descriptions of voters’ personal economic situations are largely unchanged from a February poll, prior to the economic turmoil sparked by the pandemic.
Another factor working in Trump’s favor: as with his own ratings from voters, more Pennsylvania voters view Biden unfavorably than view him favorably, 46% to 39%. Trump’s unfavorable rating was 51%, with 42% viewing the president favorably.
“The president has significant challenges if he wants to repeat 2016,” Borick said, referencing Trump’s 44,000-vote win here four years ago. “But he remains in a competitive position in key state, despite an array of bad news in other parts of the poll.”
The latest public-opinion survey of Pennsylvania likely voters comes amid an unusual national nominating convention, which Democrats convened virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. It also comes as Trump is headed to Biden’s childhood hometown of Scranton to offer a prebuttal to the former vice president’s convention remarks this evening.
A geographic breakdown of Trump’s support across the state illustrates another reason why the president is heading to Scranton. Northeastern Pennsylvania is his strongest region, where he tops Biden, 61% to 28%.
Statewide, Biden and Trump have fluctuated in recent head-to-head matchups. Biden had a nine-point lead in December, but in February’s survey, the two men were tied.
Voters’ views of Trump have remained largely consistent throughout his campaign and presidency. In the latest matchup, only 4% said they were undecided on whether they would pick Biden or Trump. When those undecided voters were asked if they are leaning toward a candidate, 26% said Biden, 9% said Trump, and the remainder were still unsure.
One in five voters say the economy is their top issue as they cast a ballot, a factor where state voters previously have given Trump solid ratings.
Regarding their own personal economic situation, the largest share of respondents, 47%, said their finances are about the same as when Trump took office in 2017. Another 40% rated their own situation as better, and 10% rate it as worse.
“That’s one factor he’s hanging on to and helps explain his competitiveness, despite the temporary economic hardship,” Borick said.
Trump rated poorly on coronavirus response
Pennsylvania voters gave Trump a negative rating on his response to the coronavirus outbreak: 51% said he’s handled the response poorly, 9% said he’s done fair, 21% good, and 17% rated his response as excellent.
While he drew strong numbers earlier in the pandemic, and his overall approval rating remained positive, Gov. Tom Wolf’s coronavirus response drew a mixed review: 10% said he’s done excellent, 32% said good, 25% said fair, and 31% said poor.
State voters were similarly divided over how Pennsylvania schools should be operating this fall. The largest share, 39%, support a mix of in-person and online instruction for Pennsylvania’s K-12 students, while 28% prefer classes to be entirely online, and 22% want to see in-person classes.
As for the personal safety precautions practiced by state voters, a majority -- 55% -- said they wear a mask all of the time when they’re outside the home and around other people. Another 29% said they do so most of the time, with only 4% saying they never do so.
Most intend to vote in person, not by mail
Pennsylvania voters also largely are feeling comfortable heading to an in-person polling location in November. Less than one-quarter said they feel unsafe voting in person, with 42% strongly disagreeing when asked if they would feel unsafe doing so.
Nearly two-thirds, or 64%, said they intend to cast their ballot in person, compared with 26% who plan to vote by mail. Democrats are most likely to say they plan to vote by mail, but even a larger share of Pennsylvania Democrats plan to vote in person, 49% to 39%. Among Republicans, 84% expect to vote in person and 11% will vote by mail, and independents also favor in-person voting, 61% to 28%.
Those numbers could reflect several factors, Borick said, including concerns about voter fraud as Trump has questioned the security of voting by mail. Asked if there is a greater chance of election fraud if Pennsylvanians vote by mail, respondents were divided, with 47% agreeing and 46% disagreeing.
Some voters also may fear their mail ballots may not be counted due to the U.S. Postal Service changes that led to warnings of delayed mail deliveries, Borick added. (The postmaster general has said further operational changes would be paused until after Election Day, but has not specified if the agency will restore mail-sorting machines that were removed from some locations.)
Overall, a majority of state voters -- 55% -- say they believe Pennsylvania is prepared to keep the November general election safe and secure, a response that’s nearly identical to the February poll.
The poll of 416 likely Pennsylvania voters was conducted from Aug. 11 to 17, and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 5.5%.
Washington correspondent Laura Olson can be reached at 202-780-9540 or [email protected].
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