Battleground states, or swing states, have always stood at the forefront of presidential elections. Battleground states are a by-product of the electoral college, they have historically shown thin polling margins between Republicans and Democrats and are thus the primary focus of a campaign’s efforts and resources. In these states, campaign billboards congest interstates, advertisements jam televisions, and lawn signs pack streets – a battle fought not with swords or guns, but with slogans, incendiary advertisements, and rallies. Since the presidential race almost always boils down to the outcomes in these states, they are a reliable litmus test to represent the direction the race is heading. So how are swing-states states shaping up for the 2020 election, and what can they tell us about the candidates and the election?
Recent polling done by Siena College has shown Trump losing footing in crucial battleground states. States that Trump won by less than a one-point margin in 2016 (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin) are now reporting double-digit leads for the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. States that have stood as solid Republican territory are now showing close polling numbers: Arizona and Texas polled a seven-point and one-point lead for Biden, respectively. Yet one key statistic jumps out when examining the polls in these battleground states. When Siena surveyed six key battleground states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina) last October, they revealed a completely different story. The gap between Trump and Biden was an average 2% in favor of Biden, as opposed to a lofty 9% in this recent Siena poll. Looking at the differences between these two polling numbers, one can identify why Trump struggles in these critical battleground states.
The world of today seems like a completely different place than the world eight months ago, when the first Siena poll took place. A lot has changed since that time: the Coronavirus has swept through the United States, infecting millions, and killing thousands of Americans and upending the economy. In addition, the killing of George Floyd has inspired millions of Americans to protest against racial inequality and police brutality, nearly tearing the country apart. Trump’s responses to these two crises have been controversial – many are criticizing Trump for his handling of the Coronavirus and his response to the BLM protests. Recent polling in battleground states confirms that these two crises are chief factors in Trump’s declining polling numbers. Across the six battleground states listed above, only 41% support Trump’s response to the pandemic, and 31% support his response to the George Floyd protests. Voters in these states generally disagree with Trump’s prioritization of the economy over stropping the spread of the virus and believe that he should have taken greater steps toward addressing the demonstrations.
Not all hope is lost for the Trump campaign. While voters in these battleground states oppose his handling of the Coronavirus and the BLM protests, they generally support his stance on the economy, with 56% favoring Trump’s economic plans over Biden’s. Memories of Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus and George Floyd’s death might soon fade and be replaced by more traditional political issues that propelled him to victory in 2016, such as the economy or immigration. In response to his deteriorating poll numbers, Trump has pivoted on his stance toward the Coronavirus, advising his supporters to wear masks and conceding that the virus will “get worse before it gets better.” While he once downplayed the severity of the virus – suggesting that America should re-open early April – he is now reevaluating how to balance the economy and public health. Only time can tell how Trump’s new approach will impact his popularity in swing-states and whether they will turn the tide of the election in his favor.