As the presidential race enters its final days, competition remains fierce in two of the most important battleground states, with former vice president Joe Biden holding a slight lead over President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania and the two candidates in a virtual dead heat in Florida, according to two Washington Post-ABC News polls.
Among likely voters in Pennsylvania, Biden is at 51% to Trump’s 44%, and Libertarian Jo Jorgensen is at 3%. Biden was leading by 54% to 45% a month ago. While the shift is slight, Biden no longer holds a statistically significant advantage, given the four-point margin of sampling error that applies to each candidates’ support. Among all registered voters in the Keystone State, Biden is at 49% to Trump’s 45%, with Jorgensen at 3%.
In Florida, Trump is at 50% to Biden’s 48% among likely voters. Jorgensen registers at 1%. Last month, Trump was at 51% and Biden at 47 percent. Among registered voters in Florida, Trump stands at 49 percent with Biden at 47%. Last month among registered voters, Biden was at 48% and Trump at 47%. Those month-to-month shifts are not statistically significant.
Although there are other battleground states in play in these final days, many analysts see Florida and Pennsylvania as holding the keys to the outcome of the election. Trump won both states in 2016, but barely, taking Florida by just over onepercentage point and Pennsylvania by less than one point.
Florida is considered as close to a must-win for the president as there is, because without its 29 electoral votes, his path to the necessary 270 electoral votes becomes significantly more challenging.
Pennsylvania is seen by Democrats as vital to Biden’s hopes of preventing the president from replicating his path four years ago through the heartland. Democrats think a Biden victory in Pennsylvania would signal success in Michigan and possibly Wisconsin as well and mark the restoration of the parts of the party’s blue wall that crumbled in 2016.
Beyond the question of voting intentions, the two polls highlight the competitiveness of the two states and show some improvement for the president over the past month as the campaign has intensified ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.
Disapproval of the president has eased ever so slightly in both states since last month. In Florida, he is now in narrowly positive territory, with 51% of registered voters saying they approve and 47% saying they disapprove. Last month, 47% approved and 51% disapproved.
In Pennsylvania, his ratings remain negative, at 45% approving and 52% disapproving, a negative seven-point margin. Last month, Pennsylvania voters disapproved of Trump by a 12-point margin, so there has been a slight but potentially significant shift in his favor.
Trump’s approval rating on the economy is positive in both states. In Florida, 58% say they approve of the job he is doing with the economy, and 40% disapprove. Strong approval is 19 points higher than strong disapproval. In Pennsylvania, 54% approve, and 44% disapprove.
But voters in both states give him negative ratings on handling the coronavirus outbreak. In Florida, 51% disapprove to 47 percent who approve. In Pennsylvania, 54% disapprove, and 43% approve, with 52 percent saying they “strongly” disapprove of the way Trump is handling the pandemic.
Majorities of voters in both states say they are “very” or “somewhat” worried about they or someone in their immediate family catching the virus. In both states, those who are more worried strongly back Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), while those who are less worried slightly more strongly back the president and Vice President Pence.
Trump is trusted more than Biden to handle the economy by voters in Florida by 14 points – 55 percent saying Trump to 41 percent saying Biden. In Pennsylvania, the margin is six points – 49 percent to 43% in Trump’s favor.
The issue of fracking has been litigated intensively in Pennsylvania and is an important matter particularly in western Pennsylvania. Trump has alleged that Biden intends to ban or halt all fracking; Biden’s energy plan calls for no new oil or gas permits on federal lands but would not ban fracking on nonfederal lands. But the former vice president has made some confusing statements that have clouded the issue.
The Post-ABC poll in Pennsylvania finds that 46% say they trust the president more to handle fracking in the state, while 42% say they trust Biden. There is a big partisan split on this question, with independents narrowly favoring Biden.
The poll suggests fracking is a strong issue for Trump in western Pennsylvania, which swung sharply for him in 2016. Voters in this region trust Trump by a 24-point margin over Biden to handle fracking, 57% to 33%, while Trump holds a narrower edge in the area on trust to handle the economy and Biden roughly ties the president on handling the coronavirus.
Among all Pennsylvania voters, Biden has the advantage on trust to handle the pandemic, but his margin is nine points, down slightly from 14 points a month ago. He and the president are about even on that question in Florida; a month ago, Biden had a five-point edge on this issue among the state’s voters.
The polls were conducted during a week that saw the highest number of new daily cases of the novel coronavirus this year, with most states showing increases. Trump has said the country has turned the corner on controlling the virus and calls for opening up as much as possible to help revive the economy. Biden has criticized the president as lacking a plan to combat the virus and has laid out a multistep proposal that includes potential future closures of stricken areas if scientists think that is necessary.
The polls find that 53% of voters in Pennsylvania and 50 percent in Florida say it is more important to stop the spread of the virus, even if that means hurting the economy, while somewhat fewer prioritize trying to restart the economy at the expense of hampering efforts to control the spread of the virus. In both states, more than 8 in 10 Democratic voters favor controlling the virus while more than 2 in 3 Republicans say restarting the economy should be the priority. About half of all independents in each state support efforts to prevent the virus from continuing to spread, with slightly more in each case than those who favor prioritizing an economic restart.
Trump’s profile in Florida is better than in Pennsylvania when voters are asked about key attributes. He leads Biden by 10 points on who is the stronger leader and runs statistically even on who is more honest and trustworthy. Biden has a negligible advantage on who is the more empathetic candidate. In Pennsylvania, Biden is seen as more honest and trustworthy by eight points and has a nine-point advantage on empathy. On the question of who is the stronger leader, the two are statistically even in Pennsylvania.
Enthusiasm for the election is high all around, with more than 9 in 10 registered voters in both states saying they either have voted already or are certain to vote by Election Day. But the pattern of voting is strikingly different, with 82% of Florida’s likely voters saying they will vote before Election Day and 58% of Pennsylvania voters saying they will vote on Election Day. In Florida, 60% of likely voters say they have already voted; 32% say the same in Pennsylvania.
As of Saturday, more than 8 million Florida voters have cast their ballots, a striking tally that has already surpassed 80% of total 2016 turnout. The Post-ABC poll finds this group backing Biden by 53% to 45%. Likely voters in Florida who have not yet cast their ballot support Trump by an 18-point margin, including a 29-point advantage among voters who plan to vote on Election Day.
The schism between early and Election Day voting is even more stark in Pennsylvania, where 2.1 million votes have already been cast, representing more than one-third of 2016 turnout. Biden leads by 57 points among voters who say they have already voted, while Trump leads by 16 points among likely voters who haven’t cast ballots and by 26 points among voters who plan to vote on Election Day.
Florida’s vote count is normally relatively swift, with the outcome usually determined by late Election Day. That pattern was broken in 2000 when the state went through a 37-day recount before the election was decided by a Supreme Court decision. Pennsylvania will not start processing mail ballots until Election Day, and the counting is likely to go on for several days before full results are known.
In Pennsylvania, Biden pulls in a slightly greater share of his party than Trump does for his – 93 percent of likely Democratic voters support Biden while 87% of Republicans support Trump – similar to the breakdown in September. Biden also leads by 18 points among self-identified independents, a group that was closely divided in September. In 2016, Trump won independents in Pennsylvania by seven points, according to network exit polling.
Biden’s September lead among women has shrunk – at the time, he led by 23 points among female likely voters in Pennsylvania, 61 percent to 38%. Now he has a 14-point lead, 55% to 41%. Among men, Biden and Trump are running even, but a month ago, Trump had a seven-point edge.
Trump leads by 20 points among White voters without college degrees, a large margin but smaller than the more than 30-point advantage by which he won this group nationally and in Pennsylvania in 2016, according to network exit polling. White college graduates favor Biden by a 23-point margin among likely voters. This group split its support evenly between Trump and Clinton in 2016, according to Pennsylvania exit polling. Biden leads by 15 points among voters age 65 and older, a shift from 2016, when Trump won seniors by 10 points.
In Florida, Trump is splitting self-identified political independents 47% to 48% for Biden (compared with an 18-point deficit for Trump in Pennsylvania). The president leads by nine percentage points among seniors (54% to 45%), an important anchor on his support, though smaller than his 17-point advantage in the state in 2016.
The president splits Hispanic and Latino voters, who make up one-fifth of Florida’s electorate, 47 percent for Trump to Biden’s 51 percent, reflecting a weakness for Biden in comparison with past Democratic nominees. In 2016, Hispanic voters in Florida favored Clinton by 62% to 35% according to network exit polling.
Trump has a 12-point lead among male likely voters in Florida, 54% to 42%, while Biden has a slight edge among female voters, 52% to 46 percent. Those gaps are slightly wider than in 2016, when men supported Trump by nine points and women supported Clinton by four points, according to network exit polls.
In Florida, Biden leads by 84 percent to 8% among Black registered voters, identical to Clinton’s advantage in 2016 exit polls. Four% of Black voters back Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, compared with 2% of registered voters overall.
Trump leads by 20 points among White likely voters in Florida (59% to 39%), and garners majority support among both White men and women (64% and 56%, respectively).
The Washington Post-ABC News polls were conducted by telephone Oct. 24-29 among random samples of 915 registered voters in Florida and 908 registered voters in Pennsylvania, including subsamples of 824 likely voters in Florida and 801 likely voters in Pennsylvania. In both states, the error margin among the sample of registered voters is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points and four points among the samples of likely voters. In Florida, 79% of respondents were reached on cellphones, and in Pennsylvania, 64% were; the remainder in both states were reached on landlines.
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The Washington Post’s Alauna Safarpour contributed to this report. This story originally appeared in The Washington Post.