Battleground Poll: Diving deep on Joe Biden’s newest supporters

July 16, 2020

TO: Interested Parties

FROM: Priorities USA, Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group

DATE: July 16, 2020

RE: Battleground Poll: Diving deep on Joe Biden’s newest supporters

As Donald Trump continues his disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse, responding to the ongoing crises with racism instead of science, many voters have reached their limit on how much more of Trump’s chaos they’re willing to take. Joe Biden has growing momentum in the race for the presidency because he offers voters who are fed up with Trump a welcome contrast as a leader who is steady, stable, compassionate, and for the people rather than only for himself.

Priorities USA’s new battleground survey, conducted by Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group, reveals that 8% of Trump’s 2016 voters across the key states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin now say they will support Biden in 2020. (By contrast, only 3% of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 voters indicate they currently support the president.) Moreover, Biden has a clear advantage among those who did not vote in 2016 but are motivated to vote in 2020. Given that Trump won the Electoral College by a razor-thin margin of less than 80,000 votes spread out across just three states, this drop in support puts him squarely behind the eight ball with less than four months until Election Day.

Movement away from Trump has increased of late. The survey identifies a group of recent converts to Biden — voters who now plan to vote for the former vice president but who did not support him two months ago. These voters, who are at the heart of Biden’s momentum, offer a unique window into how significantly the landscape has shifted under the incumbent’s feet in such a short period of time and what exactly is driving the change.

This memo will dive deep on this cohort of new (and potentially decisive) Biden supporters — examining who they are, why they’ve moved in Biden’s direction, and what Democrats can do to lock in their support between now and November.

Biden’s newest supporters reflect the importance of persuasion and base consolidation efforts

While many pundits have debated the strategic merits of whether Democrats should focus on persuading undecided voters or turning out those who have supported the party in the past, a glance at the demographics of Joe Biden’s newest supporters indicates that both approaches remain important.

Recent Biden converts comprise a sizable chunk of the total electorate in the six surveyed states — roughly 7% of battleground voters, overall. Close to two-thirds of those new supporters reflect Biden’s success in consolidating his party behind him: 64% identify as Democrats, while 68% of those who voted in 2016 say they pulled the lever for Clinton. The survey indicates that many of these self-identified Democrats supported other candidates in the presidential primary — for example, 49% say they supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, while an additional 5% say they supported another candidate — and are now uniting behind Biden to defeat Trump in the general.

However, base consolidation does not tell the whole story. In addition to Democrats coalescing after a vigorous primary season, recent Biden converts are also crossing over from the middle — and even the right. Seventeen percent of new Biden supporters identify as independents, while 19% call themselves Republicans. In fact, 21% of recent converts who voted in 2016 say they voted for Trump and 22% report that they supported his reelection as recently as two months ago. 

So these are not simply “Never Trump” Republicans who never would have seriously considered voting for him in 2020. These are folks who were with the president mere weeks ago and whose support Trump managed to lose as a result of his catastrophic string of compounding failures — pushing these one-time supporters right into the waiting arms of the Biden campaign.  

Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus, protests have driven to voters to Biden

When so many voters shift toward a single candidate in such a compressed period of time, it’s worth exploring exactly what factors may be driving that movement. In most cases, the answers are likely to be complex. But in this one, it’s painfully simple. Recent Biden converts are overwhelmingly focused on two core issues: Trump’s disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and his shameful response to the ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

When asked which issues were most important in their assessment of whether Trump deserves re-election, new Biden supporters identify his actions on the pandemic (41%) and racial issues (40%) as the top two factors in their decision — outpacing every other issue, including the economy. And perhaps unsurprisingly, these voters disapprove of Trump’s performance on both of these important issues by astronomical margins: more than 9 in 10 recent converts rate the president’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the racial situation in the country unfavorably. 

These voters overwhelmingly see Joe Biden as the answer to Trump’s failures on these issues. When asked which candidate would be better on several key coronavirus- and protest-related issues and leadership traits, recent movers pick the former vice president by a margin of more than 65 points. 

Democrats must continue to drive messages about Trump’s failed leadership to lock in new supporters

As we’ve found in past battleground polls, most voters remain eager to vote in November — and recent Biden converts are no exception. When asked how motivated and enthusiastic they were to vote in the upcoming election on a scale of 0-10, 75% of new Joe supporters rate themselves as an 8, 9 or 10, meaning three in four of these recent movers are fired up to get to the polls.

And even more troubling for Trump is that so many of these recent Biden converts have seemingly written him off completely. Only 20% of new Biden supporters say there’s a chance they will still consider voting for Trump. But while four in five of these new converts may say they have made up their minds, it’s crucial for Democrats to keep our foot on the gas and consistently drive messages that will keep these voters in our column between now and when they cast their ballot.

So what messages resonate most with Biden’s newest supporters? According to the survey, it’s not particularly complicated: all roads lead back to Trump’s failed leadership. 

Recent converts overwhelmingly prize a candidate’s leadership qualities as the most important factor in their 2020 vote, even ahead of more conventional considerations like the economy. When asked a hypothetical question about which candidate they’d be more likely to support — a candidate they perceived to have better leadership qualities or one they perceived to have better economic policies — new Biden voters chose the superior leader by a 52-point margin, 73% to 21%.

Democrats must continue to drive messages about Trump’s failure to lead, unwillingness to listen to experts and repeated refusal to put the American people first. Among a number of messages shown to voters in the survey, the top-testing messages among recent converts consistently communicated these core theme — across a variety of issues.

Of course, these themes apply most obviously to Trump’s bungling of the ongoing pandemic. Two messages that utilize this frame in different ways — one highlights how Trump’s refusal to listen to warnings on the coronavirus crisis has put the economy at even greater risk, while the other argues we won’t be able to rebuild after the pandemic with a leader who puts himself ahead of what’s best for the country — were among the best-testing messages. Each raised major concerns about re-electing Trump for 78% of new Biden supporters.

But these same themes also provide an effective frame for other issues that resonate with voters, like Trump’s attacks on affordable health care and his tax cuts for big corporations. A message that presents Trump’s health care policies as putting the interests of insurers and drug companies ahead of what is best for average people raises major concerns for 82% of recent movers. A similar number (76%) say the same about another message that frames Trump’s tax policy in terms of his refusal to listen to warnings from experts who say even more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy would cause serious harm to the economy.

About This Poll

Global Strategy Group and Garin Hart Yang Research Group conducted a live phone survey from June 24 to July 1, 2020, with a total sample of 4,805 interviews, with representative subsamples of 800 likely voters in Florida, 802 in Pennsylvania, 800 in Michigan, 803 in North Carolina, 800 in Arizona and 800 in Wisconsin. The states were weighted together based on the number of electoral votes each one represents. The distribution of voters across demographic, geographic, and political factors reflect the expected composition of the 2020 electorate in each state.