New polls suggest Democratic nominee Joe Biden has a shot at blowing out President Trump in the Electoral College, which would have disastrous repercussions for a Republican Party desperately working to protect its Senate majority.
The surveys were released before Trump and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpPresident Trump, Melania Trump test positive for COVID-19 Trump, first lady to quarantine after top aide tests positive for coronavirus Secret recordings show Melania Trump was frustrated about criticism of Trump 2018 border separation policy: CNN MORE tested positive for the coronavirus, extraordinary news with uncertain implications for the race.
The news could pull Trump from the campaign trail at a critical point in the race, but it also raises questions about the health of the president and the stability of his administration.
Before that news, Trump was already having a terrible week at the polls.
A new Quinnipiac University survey of South Carolina, which Trump carried by 14 points in 2016, finds him clinging to a 1-point lead. Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Health Care: Six Republicans break with party on ObamaCare vote | Pfizer CEO ‘disappointed’ vaccine discussed ‘in political terms’ | Trump Supreme Court pick signed ‘right to life’ statement in 2006 Third-party candidate in SC senate race drops out, throws support behind Graham GOP super PAC preparing M ad blitz in South Carolina to boost Graham MORE (R-S.C.) is getting swamped on the airwaves by Democrat Jaime Harrison and Senate Republicans have been forced to redirect millions of dollars into that race.
In Alaska, where the president triumphed by 15 points in the last election, Trump and Biden are in a statistical dead heat, according to new data from Harstad Strategic Research. Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanVulnerable Republicans break with Trump on ObamaCare lawsuit Overnight Health Care: Six Republicans break with party on ObamaCare vote | Pfizer CEO ‘disappointed’ vaccine discussed ‘in political terms’ | Trump Supreme Court pick signed ‘right to life’ statement in 2006 GOP rejects Schumer bill protecting ObamaCare amid Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Alaska) is trying to hold on against Democrat Al Gross in a state that hasn’t gone for the Democratic presidential nominee in 56 years.
Those polls come as Biden on Wednesday took a small lead in the FiveThirtyEight average of polls in Iowa, where Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstVulnerable Republicans break with Trump on ObamaCare lawsuit Overnight Health Care: Six Republicans break with party on ObamaCare vote | Pfizer CEO ‘disappointed’ vaccine discussed ‘in political terms’ | Trump Supreme Court pick signed ‘right to life’ statement in 2006 GOP rejects Schumer bill protecting ObamaCare amid Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Iowa) is fighting for her political life against Democrat Theresa Greenfield. Trump carried the state by 9 points in 2016.
The polls show the presidential race is a toss-up in Georgia, a historically red state with two competitive Senate races this cycle.
A new post-debate survey from CNBC released on Thursday put Biden’s national lead at 13 points over Trump, a landslide margin. Republicans — many of whom were appalled by the president’s debate showing on Tuesday — are growing worried that Trump will lose in a rout and take the GOP’s Senate majority with him.
“It’s concerning,” said John Pudner, a veteran Republican campaign operative who now runs the nonpartisan group Take Back Our Republic. “I think Trump’s polling and his miscues at the debate are especially a cause for concern in those tight races in Georgia, South Carolina and Iowa … it’s making his reelection tougher, and it’s making those Senate races tougher to win.”
The difference between a Biden blowout and a narrow Trump victory could be very small.
Even with the cascade of bad recent polling for Trump, the president still has a 20 percent chance of winning the election, according to the FiveThirtyEight model.
That’s not far off from the 28 percent chance FiveThirtyEight gave Trump in 2016, when he went on to win most of the battleground states and pulled off narrow victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
The president won the Electoral College 304 to 227 against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Biden notches 7-point lead ahead of Trump in New Hampshire Trump accuses Democrats of ‘anti-Catholic bigotry’ at annual Alfred E. Smith dinner Omar responds to Trump attacks: ‘This man is a white supremacist’ MORE.
If Trump can defend the bulk of the 2016 map, and keep Biden to only winning back two of three former “blue wall” states, he’ll win reelection.
“As the parties continue to re-align, with some Southern suburbs becoming more swing but the old ‘blue wall’ Democratic states moving right … the competitive territory is going to be broader than it was in 2016,” said GOP pollster Chris Wilson. “But that doesn’t mean a blowout is necessarily more likely, it just means there are fewer states that aren’t competitive from the start.”
Still, the polling is much worse for Trump in 2020 than it ever was for him in 2016, when the widespread polling miss could mostly be ascribed to a failure of imagination on behalf of the analysts who interpret polling data for a living. Now he faces worse polls, and he is likely to be pulled from the campaign trail.
Biden leads Trump by 7.2 points nationally in the RealClearPolitics average. His lead has been mostly steady going back to last year. At this point in 2016, Trump only trailed Clinton by 2.7 points. He ended up losing the national vote by about 2 points.
The Democratic nominee’s lead is outside the margin of error in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. He has led in almost every poll of Arizona this cycle. Florida and North Carolina, two states the president won narrowly in 2016, are toss-ups.
Biden is also running close with Trump in traditionally red states, such as Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Alaska, and in states the president won easily in 2016, such as Ohio and Iowa.
In 2016, independents, suburban voters and voters who disliked both candidates broke late for Trump. Some Democrats stayed home or voted third party.
Polls in 2020 show Biden leading big among independents, suburban voters and people who dislike both candidates. It does not appear third parties will be a significant portion of the vote in 2020.
According to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, 279 Electoral College votes are already leaning toward Biden, more than the 270 he needs to win. There are 179 electoral votes leaning toward Trump.
That leaves 80 electoral votes up for grabs in Arizona, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina and Florida. It would not be surprising to see Biden won some or all of those states. A couple of states where the polls are close, such as South Carolina and Alaska, are still categorized as leaning toward Trump in that model.
South Carolina could be a test case to determine whether Trump experiences a full collapse. The state has not gone for the Democratic nominee in more than 40 years.
Katon Dawson, the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said he’s seen private polling showing Trump ahead by 9 points, with Graham fighting for his political life in a statistical tie.
Dawson said he doesn’t believe Trump will lose in South Carolina. But he said it’s concerning that the president appears to have shed 7 points since 2016 in a ruby-red state. Republicans are worried Trump’s weakness, coupled with the enormous money and energy flowing toward Harrison, might cost them Graham’s Senate seat.
“Trump’s newness has worn off now and the disappointment I’m hearing from Republicans is that he could have moved the needle in these Senate races if he’d just taken apart Biden at the debate in a normal way,” Dawson said.
Chip Felkel, a veteran GOP operative in South Carolina, said he was “surprised” by the Quinnipiac University poll showing Trump with only a 1-point lead over Biden.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d see a presidential race at 1 point here,” Felkel said. “But maybe my home state will surprise and there’s a level of frustration with all of the chaos. The schtick is old and if it’s old in South Carolina, that doesn’t bode well.”
But Republicans in states Trump won easily in 2016 are largely skeptical that Biden is in position to win them back.
Craig Robinson, a conservative political analyst in Iowa, said it’s no surprise the race has tightened after Trump’s shocking 9-point victory in the Hawkeye State in 2016.
Robinson said it’s possible the president is being underestimated once again. He believes the Supreme Court fight will turn out Republicans that otherwise might have thought about staying home out of disgust over the president’s behavior.
“A lot of times in presidential elections people need an excuse to support the nominee,” he said. “Even if you’re disturbed by Trump’s behavior, even if you question his leadership abilities in the middle of the pandemic, the Supreme Court brings things into focus. It’s the ultimate excuse to say you might not like everything about Trump but you’ll vote for him because the Supreme Court is really important.”
This story was updated at 9:16 a.m. to reflect the news about Trump’s positive coronavirus test,