Three new polls suggest that neither of those notions proved particularly persuasive.
The toplines in the three polls — from Selzer & Company, Reuters/Ipsos and USA Today/Suffolk University — all show Joe Biden leading Trump nationally. The first has Biden up by 49 percent to 41 percent among likely voters. The second and third have Biden up by 47 percent to 40 percent and by 50 percent to 43 percent among registered voters.
All that is consistent with current polling averages putting Biden up by just over seven points. Trump might have gotten a slight bounce. But if he is down by that much at what should be a high point — and remember, explosive scenes from Wisconsin have been dominating the news — that’s a tough place to be.
But you can find more signs that the convention messaging may have been a flop in the new polling’s internals.
The convention’s message about coronavirus
The convention really pushed three messages about coronavirus: Trump’s leadership has been stupendous all throughout; he cares deeply about its victims and the bereaved; and the virus is largely behind us. That last point is crucial: Trump wants to move the focus off coronavirus and on to crime and safety.
But the new Selzer & Company poll finds that only 39 percent of voters approve of Trump’s handling of coronavirus, while 55 percent disapprove. Only 41 percent say Trump is doing enough to contain it, while 53 percent say health officials and their governors are doing the right amount.
Meanwhile, 53 percent of respondents believe them personally catching the virus is a “threat.” And majorities say returning kids of all ages to school is “unsafe.”
“The findings on coronavirus have positioned the president as not being as effective as the public would wish,” Ann Selzer, the president of Selzer & Company, told me, though she noted that her data don’t necessarily say anything about the convention’s efficacy.
Selzer pointed to the stark contrast in impressions of Trump on one side and governors and health officials on the other.
“For the president, there’s more of a sense that he has not done enough,” Selzer said. “There is a perception that the president specifically has not managed the job well.”
Meanwhile, the new Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that 78 percent of voters are still “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the virus. Nearly 60 percent say Trump is at least partly responsible for school and business closings and for the soaring number of cases in the U.S.
All that sounds nothing like an electorate that believes Trump crushed the virus to the point that it’s behind us.
Americans still support the protests
On top of all this, the new USA Today/Suffolk poll finds that 57 percent of voters think peaceful demonstrations should continue, even though violence has followed in some cities, while only 35 percent say they should stop (though it also finds that only a minority believes police shootings of Black people represent systemic racism).
This strongly suggests a sizable majority still does not see current unrest as a sign that a frightening wave of radicalism is sweeping across the land, portending the sort of imminent collapse that Trump’s convention sought to portray.
Indeed, the Suffolk poll finds that 54 percent support ongoing boycotting by sports teams to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, which Trump has raged against. Only 35 percent are opposed.
No real signs of massive reactionary backlash
All this suggests the electoral mainstream is in some general sense more oriented toward the need to hear out all sides in the policing debate with respect than toward the fear-driven reactionary backlash that Trump is working to unleash.
This constructive message is the one Biden is sending. He just launched a $45 million ad campaign that features him condemning violence while pivoting to a lengthy denunciation of Trump as a leading instigator of it, along with footage of white supremacists and violent MAGA counterprotesters in pickup trucks.
That $45 million is being put into a campaign directly linking Trump to the right-wing and racist extremism he’s done so much to encourage is extraordinary. But what’s also important here is that Biden is betting the mainstream will want someone who recognizes that bringing both police and protesters to the table points the way toward civil peace, even as Trump wants civil war.
Of course, Trump is not trying to win a majority. He’s using all this messaging to torque his base into just enough of a frenzy and to frighten just enough White suburbanites to pull off another electoral college inside straight. That remains possible, and we’ll need to see quality state polls to get a full picture.
But the polling we do have so far strongly suggests that Trump has failed to persuade the mainstream that coronavirus has been crushed and that the national event that truly threatens Americans’ lives and well-being is leftist protest. In a complicated, challenging moment, public attitudes are responding with appropriate nuance. And that may be the worst news for Trump of all.