The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion New polls show Trump sinking under the seismic events of the moment

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s national lead over President Trump appears to be pretty durable. (AP)

Two new polls dropped on Tuesday that shocked the political world. The first survey put presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden ahead of President Trump by 16 points in Michigan. The second one put Biden only 1 point behind Trump in Iowa.

Given that Trump carried Iowa by 9 points in 2016, that suggests a pretty big shift away from him, as does the result out of Michigan, where Trump also prevailed by a hair.

What’s striking is that both polls show Trump absolutely cratering on his handling of both the coronavirus pandemic and the protests in response to police violence.

The Iowa poll is from Selzer & Co. and the Des Moines Register. It finds Trump leading Biden among likely voters by a scant 44 percent to 43 percent. And there’s this:

Forty-five percent of Iowans say they approve of how he has addressed COVID-19, while 53% disapprove and 2% are unsure. Just 37% approve of the way he has addressed protests surrounding race and police actions. Another 55% disapprove and 8% are unsure.

Trump is underwater on the two major events of the moment in a state that was supposed to be entirely safe for him, and on one he’s deeply underwater.

Given Trump’s frenzied tweeting of “LAW & ORDER,” and his campaign’s excitement about his photo op holding a Bible after the violent removal of peaceful protesters, it’s obvious that Trump and his advisers expected their framing of protests to play well for him in states like this one.

Full coverage of the George Floyd protests

Iowa, after all, is supposed to be bedrock Midwestern Trump country. It’s an overwhelmingly white state, too.

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J. Ann Selzer, whose firm conducts the Des Moines Register poll, tells me that among Iowa likely voters, somewhere from 82 percent to 87 percent are white.

Yet the protests are playing against Trump in the state in a big way. Selzer says it would be wrong to assume that the state should be seen as a monolith.

“We had protest marches here, across the state,” that were “largely although not completely peaceful,” Selzer told me.

Trump’s travails on the protests and coronavirus may be harming him among white women without a college degree. The DMR poll finds that while Trump leads Biden by 36 points among non-college-educated white men, Biden is leading Trump among their female counterparts by 53 percent to 35 percent — 18 points.

“In 2016, you didn’t see that kind of split between male and female in that demographic,” Selzer told me.

This may confirm a dynamic identified by Ronald Brownstein — that Trump’s overt and aggressive racial incitement tends to alienate non-college-educated white women.

Meanwhile, the Michigan poll is from EPIC-MRA, which does polling for the Free Press. It found Biden leading Trump among likely voters by 55 percent to 39 percent.

And on the coronavirus, it found that an astonishing 64 percent rate Trump’s handling of it negatively, while only 34 percent rate it positively.

Michigan, like Iowa, is quintessential Midwestern Trump country. There, Trump was supposed to be cleverly turning coronavirus to his advantage by blasting Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer over the economic lockdown, stoking the populist fervor of his working class base.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Yet the poll finds that in Michigan, 62 percent rate Whitmer’s handling positively.

It’s possible that the Michigan poll is an outlier; in the RealClearPolitics averages, Biden leads by 8.7 percent, significantly less than this poll found. But the averages also show Biden leading nationally by 8.1 points, which is a pretty large lead that might be consistent with a very sizable one in Michigan.

And Biden’s national lead appears to be pretty durable. A new analysis from political scientist Alan Abramowitz underscores the point: It finds that Biden’s lead over Trump has only been marginally bigger than Hillary Clinton’s was throughout this period in 2016. But, crucially, Biden’s has been a lot more stable.

Throughout the spring months of 2016, Clinton’s lead lurched all over the place, from a high point of 10 points to a low of 2.4 points. By contrast, Biden’s lead has held steady, and in the last month has slowly edged up. As Abramowitz concluded:

This consistency may reflect the fact that Donald Trump is now running as an incumbent with a proven track record. When an incumbent like Trump is running for reelection, the election is mainly a referendum on the incumbent’s performance.

Simply put, we’re living through truly seismic events right now, and Trump has handled both of them horribly. Some pundits got temporarily lulled into believing that both crises would help Trump, but the bottom line is he’s in charge, and for now, anyway, he’s being held accountable for the epic disasters unfolding on his watch.

Trump is constantly presumed to be defying the normal rules of politics. But, while anything can happen in the next five months, and while Trump surely could still win, maybe the fundamentals are kicking in, after all.

As President Trump threatens to unleash the military on American cities roiled in civil unrest, it's clear that he's embracing his inner Nixon. (Video: The Washington Post)

Update: The percentage of those “unsure” about Trump’s handling of coronavirus in the DMR poll has been corrected.

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