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Coronavirus Concern Among Democrats Drives Lead For Biden In Ohio

Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump (right).
Associated Press
Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump (right).

A new poll that shows President Donald Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in Ohio. It also reveals that Biden’s “strong” supporters here outnumber Trump’s, a snapshot of the state less than 100 days from an election that will determine whether Ohio continues its unmatched swing-state streak.

The poll also revealed the issues motivating each candidates’ backers: Biden’s identified coronavirus as their top concern, while Trump’s said it was the economy in a year defined by a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and a reckoning over racial justice.

Conducted online between June 24 and July 15, the survey of 1,037 registered voters showed Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump 46% to 42%, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll was commissioned for Your Voice Ohio’sElection 2020 project, which explores the complexity of the state’s nearly 12 million residents through community engagement, data analysis and collaborative reporting. It was conducted jointly by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research in Akron and the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

Ohio's Relevance In The Race For The White House
John Green, director emeritus of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, said the results reinforce that Ohio is still attainable for Democrats and shouldn’t be written off as a battleground just because Mr. Trump in 2016 came away with an 8-percentage-point win in Ohio, which for decades has mirrored the national vote.

Ohio has the longest winning streak in the nation, picking the victor in every presidential election since 1964.

“No Republican has ever been elected or reelected in American history without carrying Ohio, so there’s a particular burden on Trump and his allies and supporters to compete effectively in Ohio,” Green said. “These numbers forecast a very competitive race in the state.”

Your Voice Ohio’s poll is consistent with recent surveys from other organizations that show a close race here as both campaigns enter the final stretch with a playbook rewritten by coronavirus. But researchers caution against reading too much into Mr. Biden’s early lead.

“With this much happening in our society, the numbers go back and forth, especially with Ohio,” said Michelle Henry, president of the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research. “In some states it’s going to be clear. In Ohio, it’s just not going to be.

“Even though 2016 went widely for Trump, there was quite some time when it went back and forth until it became very red,” she said.

The Top Issues
The researchers said the survey offers two main views, a snapshot of candidate preferences subject to change over the next three months, and insight into what issues are top of mind for voters, a metric that’s more likely to remain consistent until November.

Voters who backed Trump ranked the economy as their top issue, followed by coronavirus and health care. For Biden, it was coronavirus, the economy, and health care for all respondents besides the strongest supporters, who ranked health care second.

The 6% of undecided voters surveyed aligned with Trump’s backers on their top issues. Another 6% who said they are likely to vote for a candidate other than Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden cited the economy, coronavirus, racism and social services.

Biden’s strongest backers also cited racism, criminal justice and the environment as priorities, while Trump’s chose education, foreign affairs, infrastructure and immigration.

Strikingly, the poll also revealed an enthusiasm gap between Biden’s and Trump’s supporters. Nearly 31% said they strongly supported Biden, versus 26% for Mr. Trump. The percentage of moderate and weak support for both candidates was roughly the same.

Green attributed the result to greater support in general for Biden, saying it bodes well for the former vice president in the long run.

“People with strong preferences are much less likely to change their preference ... so the strength of preference really matters,” Green said.

This particular survey didn’t offer respondents the opportunity to explain their preferences, he said, or the ability to cite anti-Trump sentiment as a reason for backing Biden.

“Some of the other polls in Ohio and elsewhere have shown that a lot of people say their primary reason that they’re backing Biden is because they don’t like Trump. And some people take that to be evidence of a lack of enthusiasm,” he said. “For some people, maybe it is. But you can be really unhappy with Trump and still have a strong preference for Biden.”

By Region
Your Voice Ohio’s poll also broke the results down by region.

The new Your Voice Ohio poll shows how Ohio's regions are leaning in the 2020 presidential election. Blue represents support for former Vice President Joe Biden and red represents support for President Donald Trump.
Credit Source: Your Voice Ohio/Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron
The new Your Voice Ohio poll shows how Ohio's regions are leaning in the 2020 presidential election. Blue represents support for former Vice President Joe Biden and red represents support for President Donald Trump.

Biden leads in northeast Ohio (51% to 35%), the state’s most Democratic region, and by smaller margins in central Ohio (48% to 39%) and the more conservative southwest Ohio (46% to 42%).

Trump is ahead in the northwest Ohio(53% to 35%), where Toledo is firmly blue but the surrounding rural counties are heavily red, and the southeast (53% to 33%).

Another finding that researchers noted is Biden supporters reported following the 2020 campaign more closely than Trump supporters.

Kyle Bozentko, executive director of the Jefferson Center, a nonprofit that promotes civic engagement and sponsors Your Voice Ohio, said based on several voter engagement sessions conducted across the state, people appear more concerned about issues than the 2020 horse race.

“While the presidential campaign guides everything in what we see and consume, there is so much else happening that the urgency and level of importance of the presidential election itself kind of falls out of the picture,” he said.

Liz Skalka is a politics reporter for The Blade of Toledo. She can be emailed at lskalka@theblade.com.

Your Voice Ohio is the country’s largest statewide media collaborative with a mission to represent the diverse voices of the state and the issues people identify as important. WKSU was a founding member of Your Voice Ohio. More than 60 news outlets have participated since its founding in 2015. Funding for the election project comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund and Facebook.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the results were outside the margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Andrew joined WKSU News in 2014. He oversees the daily operations of the WKSU news department and its reporters and hosts, coordinates daily coverage, and serves as editor. His commitment is to help foster reporting that marks the best of what public radio has to offer: a mix of first-rate journalism with great storytelling. His responsibilities also include long-term strategic planning for news coverage in Northeast Ohio that serves WKSU’s audience via on-air, online, by social media and through emerging technologies. You can also hear Andrew on-air daily as the local host for Here and Now, Fresh Air, and The World.