After two political conventions, the continuing spread of the coronavirus, economic dislocation, more racial upheaval, and a coming battle over a Supreme Court vacancy, the race for the White House remains stable, with former vice president Joe Biden holding a steady advantage over President Trump, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Biden and vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris of California lead Trump and Vice President Mike Pence by 53 percent to 43 percent among registered voters, statistically unchanged from the 12-point margin in a poll taken in August just before Democrats and Republicans held their conventions. Biden and Harris also have a 10-point advantage among likely voters, 54 percent to 44 percent.
Biden’s lead narrows to six points among likely voters (49 percent to 43 percent) and among registered voters (47 percent to 41 percent) when Libertarian Party nominee Jo Jorgensen and Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins are included as response options in the survey.
A sizable gender gap continues to fuel Biden’s lead, with women making the difference in the current state of the race. Trump has a lead of 55 percent to 42 percent among male likely voters, but Biden has an even larger 65 percent to 34 percent advantage among female likely voters. Trump’s lead among men is about the same as his margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016, but Biden’s lead among women is more than twice as large as Clinton’s was then.
Biden’s current overall lead is slightly larger than the Post average of national polls over the past few weeks, which finds Biden leading by eight points nationally. National polling reflects only the potential popular vote for president and is not a direct indicator of the state-by-state competition for electoral votes that determines the winner. Further complicating any comparison, the Libertarian candidate will be on all state ballots, but the Green candidate will not.
Post-ABC polls released during the week found very tight races in Florida and Arizona, while polls the previous week found Biden with a slight lead in Wisconsin and a large lead in Minnesota. Averages of battleground-state polls generally find a closer race than in the country overall, a sign of Trump's continued competitiveness.
Interest in the election has climbed to near-record levels, with nearly 6 in 10 registered voters saying they are following the election "very closely," higher than any in other presidential election at this time in the cycle dating back to 2000.
The number who say they are certain to vote also appears to be marginally higher than in previous elections. At present, 89 percent of registered voters say they are certain to vote between now and Election Day, Nov. 3, up from 83 percent at this point in 2016. A bare majority (52 percent) of registered voters say they will vote either by mail or early, with 45 percent saying they plan to vote on Election Day.
The president has repeatedly sought to question the reliability of mail ballots, asserting without evidence that voting by mail is subject to widespread fraud or foreign interference. (States that already use mail voting report minuscule incidents of fraud). In recent days, Trump has refused to say he will accept the outcome of the election and guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, citing mail voting.
Enthusiasm among Trump supporters is higher than among Biden supporters, a pattern that has been seen throughout this election year. Among registered voters, 65 percent of those currently favoring Trump say they are very enthusiastic about that support. Among those backing Biden, 47 percent of registered voters say they are very enthusiastic about their support for him.
Despite lacking fervor for Biden, the former vice president’s supporters are intensely concerned about Trump winning a second term, with a 70 percent majority of Biden voters saying Trump’s reelection would be “a crisis for the country.” By comparison, 59 percent of Trump voters say a Biden victory by would result in such a crisis. Among voters who support Biden but are “somewhat enthusiastic” or less about his candidacy, 56 percent say a Trump victory would mark a crisis.
The poll was conducted after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but before Trump’s Saturday nomination of federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the high court. But it finds that 64 percent of Biden supporters say the court vacancy makes it “more important” that he win the election, compared with 37 percent of Trump supporters who say the same about their candidate. Among all adults, Biden holds an eight-point advantage over Trump on whom Americans trust to handle the Supreme Court appointment.
Attitudes about the candidates, especially the president, have been fixed for several months. Today there are relatively few voters who say they could change their minds before they vote, with more than 9 of 10 Trump and Biden supporters saying they would not consider voting for the other major-party candidate.
The public continues to give the president negative marks overall for his handling of the presidency, with 44 percent of adults overall saying they approve and 53 percent saying they disapprove — and with 46 percent saying they strongly disapprove. His approval rating has bounced back from 39 percent in July now to about where he stood in May.
Trump has tried repeatedly to change public perceptions, both about the state of the pandemic, often in conflict with medical and scientific specialists, and how he has dealt with it. Despite those efforts, there has been no change in the public’s judgment of him over the past three monthly surveys.