Todd Spangler Detroit Free Press
Published 7:42 AM EDT Sep 18, 2020
Seven weeks out from the Nov. 3 election, a Free Press poll released Friday shows that Democratic nominee Joe Biden continues to hold a clear lead over President Donald Trump in Michigan, though his advantage was still shrinking from its high point a few months ago.
Biden led Trump 48%-40% in the poll, which was conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for the Free Press and other media partners and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. While an 8-point lead is significant, it’s down from an 11-point lead in July and a 16-point lead Biden held in June, signaling that Michigan could still be competitive in the fall election.
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The result is largely consistent with other recent polls in the state, but the poll did indicate some trends which, if they continue, could hurt Biden, including what appeared to be a growing undecided bloc among Black voters in Detroit and a move away from Biden among men who considered themselves independents. While men overall were about tied at 45% for Trump to 43% for Biden, female voters continued to back Biden 54% to 34% for Trump.
“Part of what Trump is trying to do is starting to kick in,” said Bernie Porn, EPIC-MRA’s pollster, who noted 12% had as a top concern violence in U.S. cities after protests against police brutality and 57% of those surveyed were in opposition to any move to defund or even redirect funding for police as a result. Trump has tried to link Biden to both, saying he has been supportive of protests and defunding police, even though the former vice president has denounced violence and said he is against cutting funding.
“I think that’s eating away (at Biden’s lead) but not significantly. … It’s likely to tighten up (even more) but a lot is likely to hinge on the debates,” said Porn, referring to the series of three presidential debates beginning with one on Sept. 29 in Cleveland.
Despite three-quarters of those polled believing racism is a serious problem, support for the Black Lives Matter movement was down somewhat as well, from 50% approval and 42% disapproval in July, to 48% approval and 45% disapproval now as protests continue in American cities.
For subscribers: Michiganders think systemic racism is a problem, poll shows
It’s of note, however, that Trump’s level of support has barely budged from the 39% he got in the June poll and 40% in the July poll, suggesting that may be a ceiling for him. The new poll showed 5% supporting a third party candidate, up from 3% in July, and 7% undecided, up only a point from the June and July polls.
The survey, which included responses from 600 randomly selected likely Michigan voters taken between last Thursday and this Tuesday, came largely after recent visits by both of the candidates to Michigan, which is expected to be a battleground even though Biden has held a lead in most polls taken in the state this year.
The poll sample included 43% Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, 39% Republicans or Republican-leaning independents and 11% non-leaning independents.
Biden’s lead has been consistent
Trump famously eked out a narrow victory over then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016, winning by two-tenths of 1% of the vote, despite the fact that going into the election polls showed Clinton with a lead, although it was within the margin of error.
It was the first time Michigan had backed a Republican presidential nominee since George H.W. Bush in 1988 and it has been used repeatedly to question the validity of polls, which can sometimes be wrong but are a statistically valid way of measuring support.
Biden’s lead in EPIC-MRA’s polls and in most other polls of the state, meanwhile, has been more consistent than Clinton’s was. In a mid-September 2016 poll, her lead over Trump was down to 4 points, or the margin of error, at 42%-38%. There was also a big bloc of undecided voters at 17%. Her lead then increased before shrinking again just before the election as then-FBI Director James Comey reopened, then re-closed, an investigation into her handling of classified emails as secretary of state.
Not only has the percentage of undecided voters in the upcoming election been far smaller at 7%, Biden’s level of support, while decreasing somewhat, has consistently been just under or even over 50%, which is higher than Clinton’s.
Biden also has closed what was perceived to be an enthusiasm gap between his supporters and Trump’s, at least in Michigan: Asked to rate on a 100-point scale their level of enthusiasm to vote for the nominee of their choice, Biden’s supporters averaged 86 points, compared with 90 for Trump’s supporters.
That was even though 40% of Biden’s supporters said their vote for him was more about voting against Trump than supporting Biden. (Forty-six percent said it was more about supporting Biden; 13% said it was both.) Seventy-four percent of Trump’s supporters said they were voting for him, not against Biden, while 20% said they were voting against Biden and 5% said it was both.
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Andrea Williams, a 72-year-old retired Detroit Public Schools administrator, is one of those who put her enthusiasm in voting for Biden at 100%. “I like the fact that he, for one, is truthful, and I think he has the knowledge and skills that we need to have for an agenda that is focused on a comprehensive plan based on science and not silliness and not self-promotion that is going to deal with this (coronavirus) epidemic.”
As for Trump, she said, “There’s nothing I like about him, not one single thing.”
Michigan continues to appear in play
There’s every indication the race will continue to tighten, however, as both candidates target the state despite there being questions just a few months ago about whether Michigan should still be considered a battleground.
Just last week, Trump held a big rally at an airport outside Saginaw, arguing — often inaccurately — about all he has done to help Michigan’s auto industry, though he can point to continued economic gains nationally for much of his first three years in office. His campaign is also beginning to advertise again in Michigan — touting his economic record and saying Biden would raise taxes.
Trump has also been hitting Biden for supporting as a U.S. senator in the 1990s the North American Free Trade Agreement, which critics argued sent auto and other manufacturing jobs overseas. Biden later argued that the deal should be renegotiated to stop job losses and recently acknowledged that a new deal signed by Trump was preferable to the old one.
Biden was at a UAW headquarters in Warren last week as well, talking up a jobs plan and denouncing Trump’s having told journalist Bob Woodward he knew of the risks of coronavirus while publicly downplaying the threat as “beyond despicable.”
Trump’s well-known penchant to attack and insult his enemies on Twitter and elsewhere may put off some voters, but others, like Joe Lenard, 58, of Wyandotte, are willing to look past them. Lenard said he’s voting for Trump — after sitting out the presidential election four years ago — believing the president has shown himself to be committed to conservative values of reducing taxes and regulations and taking a stance against abortion. “We pretty much had the roaring ’20s ahead of COVID,” he said.
“I’m not a Trump cult person,” Lenard added. “I believe in principles, not personalities … (But) He’s proven me wrong. He’s been much more of a conservative and pro-Christian leader than I ever thought he would be. He’s earned my vote for 2020.”
In the 2016 election, more than 75,000 Michiganders, like Lenard, cast ballots but didn’t vote for president — leaving a large bloc potentially up for grabs to both candidates this year.
There is also no way of knowing how the continuing coronavirus pandemic and a marked increase in absentee voting, which Trump has continued to attack as corrupt even though he is an absentee voter himself, will have on the outcome of the election, though, according to the poll, both could be significant.
Asked to rate their concerns, 25% said reopening the economy and schools from coronavirus was their top worry; another 22% said it was reducing deaths and cases from the virus. Meanwhile, 52% said they expect to vote absentee in the upcoming election, compared with 46% who said they plan to still go to the polls.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continued to get strong marks from voters, with 56% approving of the job she’s doing compared with 44% who disapproved. Fifty-six percent had a favorable opinion of her, compared with 52% for Biden and 42% for Trump.
Contact Todd Spangler: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.
Published 7:42 AM EDT Sep 18, 2020