The 2020 presidential election is still one year and five months away. Large swaths of Americans don’t even know many of the candidates who are bidding to be the Democratic nominee. And we still don’t know whether we’ll go through a politically arduous impeachment process.
All of that said, there are some real warning signs for President Trump in the first handful of polls of the 2020 race.
My colleague Philip Bump highlighted perhaps the shock poll of the early 2020 campaign on Wednesday. The Quinnipiac survey showed Trump trailing former vice president Joe Biden in Texas by four points — and holding statistically insignificant leads over the rest of the Democratic field there. Were Texas to actually be competitive, after Trump carried it by nine points in 2016, it would be a major leg up for the Democrats’ efforts to win back the White House.
And that wasn’t the only bad state poll for Trump that was released Wednesday. In Michigan, a Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll conducted by the Glengariff Group showed Trump trailing both Biden and Bernie Sanders by 12 points in the state he narrowly won in 2016. Three other lesser-known Democrats also led Trump by between three and six points.
And just a few weeks ago, we saw a similar result in the other big Rust Belt state Trump picked off from the Democrats, Pennsylvania. The Quinnipiac poll there showed Biden leading Trump by double digits (53 to 42), Sanders up by seven, and the lesser-known Democrats all either leading or trailing within the margin of error.
So that’s two polls showing at least one Democrat with a double-digit lead in two states that were crucial for Trump in the 2016 election. And Trump even struggles to beat Democrats whom half the country hasn’t even heard of.
Some caveats apply to all of these. First, we don’t have polls from more than one high-quality pollster in any of these states, and you should never base predictions on just one poll. Second, Biden is very popular right now — in a way he’s unlikely to be come Election Day 2020 if he’s the Democratic nominee. (You’d expect an unpopular president to be trailing a popular Democrat.) And third, lots and lots of things are going to happen over the course of this campaign. Polls don’t predict anything; they show you where things stand at that particular moment in time, subject to human and sampling errors.
But even if you dig a little deeper, you start to see some more warning signs.
In the Michigan poll, for example, fewer than 36 percent of voters say they’ll definitely vote to reelect Trump, while more than 51 percent say they plan to vote for someone else.
In Texas and Pennsylvania, both Quinnipiac polls show Trump floundering among independents. In Texas, independents disapproved of Trump by a margin of 21 points (58 to 37), even though Trump carried them in 2016 by 16 points (52 to 38). The gap was similar in Pennsylvania, where Trump won independents by seven points (48 to 41), but they now disapprove of him by 20 points (56 to 36). Were Trump to lose the independent vote in either of these states — or even if it were close — it would be very difficult to carry them.
Other state polling we’ve seen at this early juncture haven’t been quite so ominous for Trump. A recent Florida Atlantic University poll showed the Florida race basically within margin of error in a state Trump carried by just more than a point — about what you’d expect. Another poll in Arizona showed Biden ahead by four, which as with Texas would be a major upset in a red state. But against other Democrats, Trump was about where he was in 2016, when he won by four points.
Yet the national picture is also somewhat grim for Trump. Of the three high-quality pollsters to test multiple general election matchups so far this year, both Biden and Sanders lead in all three outside the margin of error, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) holds statistically insignificant leads in all three, and both Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg are right there with Trump, even though they suffer from poor name ID.
Trump’s political stock is about where it was in 2016, when he defeated a Democratic nominee who was about as historically unpopular as he was. Perhaps it should be a surprise that he would struggle against Democrats who haven’t been through the wringer yet. But it’s also noteworthy the position he seems to start in when it comes to some key states again unknown opposition, and it doesn’t appear to be a position of strength.