By GARY LANGER
(NEW YORK) — Overwhelming support in Philadelphia and its suburbs lift former Vice President Joe Biden to a clear lead in crucial Pennsylvania, with backing from college-educated white people and women — notably white, moderate and suburban women — central to his advantage in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
President Donald Trump, for his part, is suffering attrition among his 2016 supporters; 8% of them now back Biden instead. While a small slice of the electorate, it’s a potentially important factor in a state Trump won by 44,292 votes out of nearly 6.2 million cast four years ago.
Likely voters support Biden over Trump by 54 to 45%, almost exactly matching a national ABC/Post poll released Sunday. The result includes more than a 2 to 1 Biden lead in the populous Philadelphia suburbs, home to nearly a quarter of likely voters, and close results in northeastern and western Pennsylvania, leaving only the conservative center of the state clearly to Trump.
With the first presidential debate Tuesday night in Cleveland, the poll marks Trump’s challenges in Pennsylvania, also reflected in the crucial Midwest and indeed nationally. Sixty percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania say the economy is hurting, 62% are worried about catching the coronavirus and 54% support protests against police treatment of Black people. Each aids Biden.
Trump’s chief task, though, is to overcome majority disapproval of his first-term performance. As is the case nationally, his overall job approval rating is well under water in Pennsylvania — 43 to 55%, approve-disapprove. And it’s 42 to 57% for his handling of the pandemic.
A shift from 2016 underscores Trump’s difficulty. Likely voters in this survey who report having voted four years ago say they backed Trump over Hillary Clinton by 50 to 47% — close to the actual result, 48 to 47%. Today, Clinton voters favor Biden by 98 to 1%, but Trump slips — his 2016 supporters divide by 92 to 8%.
Like all pre-election polls, this survey measures current preferences among estimated likely voters; either or both can change. It’s an open question, for instance, whether Sunday’s New York Times report on Trump’s tax returns — a day after interviews were completed — has any impact.
Trump does have ammunition in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates: A 20-point advantage in strong enthusiasm among his supporters, 53% approval for handling the economy, solid backing in his base and a clear lead among voters who plan to cast their ballot in person on Election Day.
That said, Biden’s lackluster enthusiasm may be counterbalanced by antipathy toward Trump. Pennsylvania registered voters who strongly disapprove of the president’s job performance outnumber strong approvers by 17 percentage points, 49 to 32%. It’s similar nationally.
Biden, further, may gain some energy from the pending replacement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. Contrary to Trump and his party’s current course, 53% of registered voters in the state say the seat should be filled by the election winner and the next Senate, not by Trump and the current Senate. Moreover, 61% of Biden’s supporters say this issue makes it more important to them that Biden wins; fewer Trump supporters, 41%, say the same about their candidate. National results, again, are roughly similar.
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