States of Play: Battleground & National Likely Voter Surveys

Change Research/ CNBC Poll: October 29-November 1, 2020


 Key Takeaways

Biden +10 nationally and leading in the 6 competitive battleground states 

Biden leads by 10 points nationally (52% to 42%) and in all six state battleground states — six states Trump won in 2016 — in our final Change Research CNBC polls before Election Day. 

Democrats are also well positioned to take back the Senate. McSally has consolidated the Trump vote, but Kelly continues to outperform Biden in AZ. Cunningham is also running ahead of Biden and Tillis has not yet consolidated the Trump vote in North Carolina. John James continues to outperform Trump, as he has consistently in our surveys, but Peters is getting 51% of the vote. 

Almost 7-in-10 voters nationally and in the battleground say they have already voted (68%). Early voting is highest in AZ (85%), FL (82%), and NC (81%) while only 40% of voters in PA have voted early. No wonder the campaigns have spent so much time there these final days! 

Looking at the universe of people who considered voting for another candidate at some point in the cycle, 16% of current Trump voters (7% of all battleground voters) say that they considered voting for another candidate in the general election, while 26% of Biden voters (12% of all battleground voters) say that they considered voting for another candidate. So, this was not “in the bag” for Biden from the start — he won the persuasion war. 

A historically unpopular president v. an increasingly popular challenger 

No matter who was the Democratic nominee, a big part of the story of 2020 was going to be the historically unpopular president. Majorities are unfavorable towards Trump nationally and in the battleground states, and majorities disapprove of his job performance. What was not given was the fact that half of voters would be favorable towards the Democratic nominee. Biden ends this campaign +6 net favorable nationally and net-neutral across the competitive battleground. He is still underwater but less so than Trump in AZ (+4 net unfavorable Biden v. +6 net unfavorable Trump) and NC (+3 net unfavorable Biden, +6 net unfavorable Trump), as unpopular in FL (+3 net unfavorable towards both), and net favorable in the Rust Belt states (+2 net favorable in MI, +1 in PA, +1 in WI). As a reminder, at the start of this campaign, Biden was less popular than Trump and rival Bernie Sanders. This is one of the great successes of the Biden campaign.

Trump has been a 42% President. He is only favorable to 42% nationally and is only capturing 42% of the vote. But he has governed in a way that only appeals to 35% of America, the number who are strongly favorable towards him and the share of the electorate that is mostly voting for Trump (versus mostly voting against Biden). 

Even though Biden ends this campaign in favorable territory, this is still primarily a referendum on Donald Trump for Biden voters as well: 60% of Biden voters nationally (roughly 31% of all voters nationally) and 54% of Biden voters in the battleground say that they are mostly voting against Trump and the reason that Biden voters most often cited as their single most important reason for voting for Biden is removing Trump from office (65% in the battleground). 


The closing message on COVID during a third wave is sealing Trump’s fate 

With cases rising, 71% are seriously concerned about COVID-19, half of battleground voters say that things are getting worse when it comes to the pandemic, and only 38% say that things are getting better. Fully 81% report a close connection who has contracted COVID-19 and 6% in the battleground have contracted it themselves. No wonder when we asked voters what they wanted the winner of the election to do first, they overwhelmingly focused on handing the pandemic.

Biden continues to be preferred on COVID-19 over Trump by 6 points in the battleground and how Biden would handle the pandemic is the second most important reason for supporting him overall – and the most important policy reason for supporting him (30% single most important reason, 93% at least a very important reason). By comparison, how Trump handled COVID-19 was the reason least cited by Trump supporters for their vote after stories about Hunter Biden (just 14% said COVID was the top reason). 

But not only has Trump failed in handling COVID-19, he has stopped pretending to care in his final days on the campaign trail. We tested both of the closing messages from the campaigns on COVID-19, and found that majorities disagreed with President Trump’s message that we are rounding the corner and we need to reopen while a majority agreed with Biden’s message that things are getting worse and we need a different approach. Truthfully, the statement we tested is a fairly generous reading of Trump’s closing message, but even so, only 49% agree and only 37% agree strongly with it. The weakness of this message is far more evident by comparison to the Biden message — 54% agree with him that things are getting worse and Trump has given up fighting COVID and 49% strongly agree. (We did not test Trump’s signal that he would fire Dr. Fauci after the election, but we believe it would have been poorly received:  Dr. Facui has a 66% approval rating including the approval of one-in-three Trump voters in the battleground.)

You could not imagine a worse closing message for Trump when 54% of battleground voters disapprove of his handling of COVID-19 in the battleground, and 51% do so strongly. By comparison, only 31% strongly approve (46% approve), including only two-thirds of Trump’s own voters!  It isn’t just that Trump insists on closing by running against COVID-19 in his words, he does this through his actions as well. Only 44% approve of his superspreader rallies while 66% approve of Biden’s careful approach to campaigning (47% strongly). 


Concerns about counting ballots and post-election response 

The President’s closing message has emphasized heavily his intention to cut short counting after Election Day, but only 3-in-10 voters expect that we will know the winner on Election Night, including only 41% of Trump’s own voters in the battleground. If he tries to cut off voting in PA, specifically, he should know that only 21% of voters there think that we will know on Election night the result, so don’t expect them to go along with it! Things will be a little murkier if we don’t know by the end of the week as 61% of battleground voters expect we should know within a few days (Election Night included). 

Voters are increasingly concerned that Trump will only accept the outcome of the election if he wins. Now 53% of battleground voters are concerned about that, up from 49% two weeks ago. By comparison, only 39% of voters are concerned that Biden will not accept the outcome. A 51% majority in the battleground is also concerned that Trump will try to prevent every vote from being counted (on the flip side, only 47% are concerned Biden will try to get fraudulent votes counted). 

The good news is that voters are more aligned in their vote choice and their expectations now — 50% expect Biden will win and Biden is getting 50% of the vote in the battleground. Before, more voters expected Trump to win, which may have been an advantage for him if he attempted to cut counting short while he was ahead. 

Disturbingly, voters are concerned about both left-wing protests and violence after the election (63% concerned) and right-wing protests and violence after the election (56% concerned). We will continue to monitor public reaction to post-election events as they unfold. 


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Change Research conducted a poll of 3,328 likely voters October 29-November 1, 2020 across 6 competitive battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. A companion national survey of 1,800 likely voters was also conducted October 29-November 1, 2020. Unless otherwise stated, the results presented in this analysis are among battleground state voters. The margin of error, as traditionally calculated, is ±1.7% for the battleground and ±2.26% 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 17th in a series of bi-monthly battleground state and national surveys that CNBC & Change Research will conduct in 2020.