States of Play: Battleground & National Likely Voter Surveys on COVID-19, Vaccines, and Economic Relief

Change Research/ CNBC Poll: July 26-26, 2020

The ballot tightens but large majorities still disapprove of Trump’s COVID response

Biden leads by 9 points in the national ballot and by 3 points in the battleground (48% to 45%). While the battleground ballot has tightened, Biden continues to lead across each battleground state.

Only 44% approve of Trump’s job performance nationally. In the battleground, his approval is up 2 points from the record low measured two weeks ago, but still stands at just 47%. Strong disapproval outpaces strong approval by 12 points in the battleground (49% strongly disapprove,  37% strongly approve) and by 20 points nationally (53% strongly disapprove, 33% strongly approve). 

Trump continues to be underwater on major issues. That starts with COVID-19:  just 40% nationally approve of his handling of COVID-19, a new record low, and 45% approve of his handling of COVID-19 in the battleground. This is Trump’s weakest issue area, but he is also underwater on every other issue nationally and is only leading on the stock-market in the battleground.

Battleground voters are equally divided over who would do a better job recovering from the economic impact of COVID-19, the key question in November. Presently, Biden and Democrats are more trusted to handle COVID-19 – the critical first step – and they are also more trusted to ensure economic relief for COVID-19 goes to those who need it most, rather than the healthy and well-connected. Trump’s greatest advantages come on jobs. Majorities trust him and Republicans more to get people back to work, which they have been pushing people to do for many months (even before it was safe), and majorities trust him more to keep jobs in the US. 

Over the past weeks we have seen the Biden campaign unveil their economic pillars – and they are appropriately focused on undermining Trump’s advantage on jobs. Presently, 30% of battleground voters and 29% nationally are very familiar with those plans; another 46% in the battleground and 48% nationally are somewhat familiar. 

GOP governance in states 

The preference for Democratic leadership on COVID-19 is clear when you see voters’ reactions to the way their governors are handling COVID-19. Republican Governors who have listened to the President on COVID-19 are underwater in the handling of the virus, while majorities approve of the way their governor is handling the outbreak in states governed by Democratic Governors. 

The failures of GOP governance are threatening Republicans’ control of not only the White House, but also the Senate. Cal Cunningham leads Thom Tillis by a significant 12 point margin in North Carolina, Gary Peters leads John James by 4 points in Michigan, and Mark Kelly leads Martha McSally by 2 points in Arizona. 

COVID-19 concerns remain high nationally and in the battleground though the cry for action is less urgent in FL and AZ compared to two weeks ago

As the U.S. nears record hospitalizations, serious concerns about coronavirus reach 77% nationally (+4 over the past two weeks) and remain 71% in the battleground. Within the battleground, serious concerns increased a few points across the Rust Belt and decreased a few points across the Sunbelt, but serious concerns remain highest in Florida (76%). The number saying things are getting worse also increased nationally (61% from 59% two weeks ago), but decreased 3 points across the battleground as voters have become less pessimistic. To be sure, majorities across every battleground state except for Michigan still say things are getting worse, which is unsettling at this stage in the pandemic.

Pluralities nationally (38%) and in the battleground (43%) continue to say things are reopening too quickly. Despite continued calls for statewide mask mandates, there has been a downtick in the number saying things are opening too quickly in Arizona and Florida. Still, over half say things are reopening too quickly there (51% in Arizona and 57% in Florida).

The number engaging in precautions against COVID-19 remains high. Particularly noteworthy is the 4 point increase in the number wearing masks in public – 82% in the battleground now say they do this, making it the second most popular precaution after handwashing. A 64% majority of Republicans in the battleground and 68% of Republicans nationally (and even President Trump!) are wearing masks, continuing the trend from last wave. The one state where there seems to be less mask wearing is Wisconsin, where just 67% are wearing masks. (Wisconsin still has not issued a statewide mask order.)

After being steady or falling for the past month, the number reporting that certain activities are safe is starting to increase again, driven by the Sunbelt states. That being said, the only activities that a majority of all battleground voters consider safe at this stage are shopping, going to the beach, and going to a hair or nail salon.

Only one activity was deemed less safe this week than it was two weeks ago – attending an indoor campaign rally – driven by the 50% of Republicans who now say they are safe compared to 61% two weeks ago. It is reasonable to ask whether Trump’s decision to cancel the RNC in Florida is giving his supporters permission to express their concerns or whether they are simply following his direction for their views about what is safe or not. 

The expanding reach of COVID-19

Two months ago, leading into the Memorial Day Weekend, 52% nationally said they or someone they knew had contracted COVID-19, and within the key states, there were important differences by state and party affiliation. Today, 64% nationally say they or someone they know has contracted COVID-19, including 4% who say they have had it and 19% who say a member of their family has had it. In the battleground, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina are now the states with the fewest COVID connections, while a stunning 70% of Florida voters say they or someone they know has had COVID. Democrats are still far more likely than Republicans to report knowing someone with COVID-19, but half of Republicans now know someone with the disease. 

Widespread support for policies to deal with the economic impact of COVID-19

On the major economic measures, voters’ views are trending in the wrong direction. Positive ratings of the US economy are down 5 points nationally (from 37% to 32% excellent/good) and are down 3 points in the battleground (from 39% to 36%). Positive ratings of the US job market are down 2 points nationally (from 36% to 34% excellent/good) and are down 2 points in the battleground (from 39% to 37%). Furthermore, nationally 34% say they or someone in their household is still dealing with lower wages or a salary cut due to COVID-19 and 27% say their household is still on furlough or out of a job due to COVID-19.  

We tested a number of policies being proposed to deal with the economy and COVID-19 relief. The broadly popular elements included the following:

  • 80% support an additional round of direct payments of up to $1,200 for individuals making less than $99,000, consistent with our past research.  
  • 77% support funding for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; 
  • 76% support invest in expanding broadband internet access;
  • 68% support relief to state and local governments facing budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus outbreak, consistent with our past research. 
  • 62% support extending the $600 a week enhanced unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs to COVID-19, consistent with our past research on this topic. 

Finally, giving corporations legal immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits only had the support of 32% of voters, and 58% were opposed. This is not even a broadly popular idea among Republicans in the battleground. Only 52% of them support this idea, a very weak starting point for an issue the Senate has indicated is a possible sticking point for them.


Big pharma, health care costs, and a COVID-19 vaccine

Even after news of major advances in the development of a COVID-10 vaccine, pharmaceutical drug companies continue to be one of the most deposed groups of people in our polling. Only 10% in the battleground are favorable and 68% are unfavorable. This resentment is shared by Democrats (74% unfavorable), independents (71%), and Republicans (60%). 

Relatedly, health care and drug costs are a top issue in the battleground and the nation. Health care costs were third of the list of the top issues facing the country (36% selected it as a top three issue in the battleground and nationally) after the economy (53% in battleground, 52% nationally), and COVID-19 (47% in battleground, 48% nationally). The majority of voters rate the state of their health care costs in poor or not so good condition (57% in battleground and nationally) and an even larger number say that they are worried and uncertain about their health care costs in the year ahead (59% in battleground, 60% nationally). 

There is considerable speculation about whether the development of a COVID-19 vaccine will be a political boon for the president late in the year. But this poll shows there is considerable hesitation about taking a vaccine across party lines. 

Half of battleground voters and 51% of voters nationally say they are following the news about the development of a COVID-19 vaccine very closely, and 85% in the battleground and 87% nationally say they are following this news at least somewhat closely.  

A 58% majority nationally and roughly half (49%) of battleground voters say that they are likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available, a 4 point increase nationally since late May. Another 15% in the battleground and 14% nationally say they ‘maybe’ will. But a sizable 36% minority in the battleground and 28% nationally say that they are unlikely to get the vaccine. Looking at the national survey, interesting differences emerge. A 78% majority of Democrats and just over half of independents (54%) say they will be vaccinated, but a 47% plurality of Republicans say they will not. Young people are the most likely to be vaccinated, followed by seniors. A 72% majority of college grads will be vaccinated compared to just 47% of non-college educated voters. Finally, white voters are the most likely to be vaccinated, and half of black voters are unwilling to be vaccinated. 


Battleground Toplines

Battleground Sample & Methodology

National Survey Toplines

National Survey Sample & Methodology

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Change Research conducted a poll of 2,565 likely voters July 24-26, 2020 across 6 competitive battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. A companion national survey of 1,039 likely voters was also conducted July 24-26, 2020. Unless otherwise stated, the results presented in this analysis are among battleground state voters. The margin of error, as traditionally calculated, is ±1.94% for the battleground and ±3.04% for the national poll. Change Research reaches voters via targeted online ads that point people to an online survey instrument. Our Dynamic Online Sampling establishes and continuously rebalances advertising targets across region, age, gender, race, and partisanship to dynamically deliver large samples that accurately reflect the demographics of a population. Post stratification was done on state, gender, age, race, education, and 2016 presidential vote.

This is the tenth in a series of bi-monthly battleground state and national surveys that CNBC & Change Research will conduct in 2020.