President Donald Trump has narrowed the gap in the final month of the presidential campaign, but Democrat Joe Biden continues to lead in Pennsylvania, according to a Franklin & Marshall College Poll released Thursday.
The poll shows Biden leading the president 50% to 44%, a six-point lead that falls within the poll’s 5-point margin of error and is down from the Democratic nominee’s nine-point lead (49%-40%) that F&M found in September.
Four years ago, multiple polls -- including F&M’s -- showed Hillary Clinton consistently leading Trump, even in the campaign’s final week.
A big difference this year is that Biden enjoys stronger support from Democrats in counties that Clinton won in 2016, said Terry Madonna, the Director of F&M’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs.
Counties that voted for Clinton in 2016 are some of the most populated in the state. If Biden secures a larger share of votes in these populated regions, he would likely win Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
“That’s going to be a big deal if he can sustain that,” said Berwood Yost, who heads F&M’s polling operation.
Another difference is there are far fewer undecided voters today than in 2016. The F&M Poll found that just 3% of voters remain undecided and only 2% say they support a third-party candidate, down from 13% combined at this stage of the campaign four years ago.
F&M surveyed 268 Democrats, 229 Republicans and 61 independents from across the state from Oct. 19-25. More Democrats than Republicans were polled to reflect the party’s voter registration lead statewide.
Biden has led Pennsylvania polls consistently since he became the projected Democratic nominee in late spring. But that lead has slowly dropped, according to two closely tracked polling averages.
The RealClearPolitics poll average showed Biden’s lead falling an average of 3.3 percentage points since Oct. 11, though Biden still leads Trump by an average of 3.8 points. FiveThirtyEight’s polling average shows a 2.2 percentage point drop in support for Biden since Oct. 11, though it still shows the Democrat leading the president by 5.1 points as of Oct. 28.
Biden’s strength in Pennsylvania could be the results of his campaign’s massive spending here, Yost said. The Biden campaign spent $66 million on advertising targeting Pennsylvania voters since July 1, dwarfing the $18 million spent by the Trump campaign, Yost said.
“[Biden] has really owned the airwaves,” Yost said, noting that the Biden campaign has spent $47 million on broadcast advertising in the state compared to Trump’s $16 million. “That’s hard to overcome that kind of spending.”
Although Biden continues to lead state polls in many of the key battleground states, Trump’s job approval ratings and increase in registered Republican voters in many parts of Pennsylvania leaves the president in a competitive position, Yost said.
“If you combine them together, it might suggest there’s some possibilities here for President Trump,” Yost added. “But ultimately, it’s going to come down to where voters turn out and what share of the vote they provide to the candidate they support.”
F&M’s found that Trump’s approval rating in the state stands at 42%, which has remained steady in the last several months. Approximately 52% of Pennsylvania likely voters said they have an unfavorable view of the president.
Madonna said he does not predict a large change in public opinion prior to Election Day, which was what happened in 2016 when undecided voters broke for Trump in the final days. But Madonna said he believes the election in Pennsylvania will be close and results may not be available until days after the election given the large number of mail-in votes.
“The polls in Pennsylvania have been static, because of the huge number of people who have made up their mind and don’t seem to move,” Madonna said. He noted that big events that occurred in the weeks since F&M’s last statewide survey, such as Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis and the virus’s resurgence nationally, failed to change either candidate’s standing.
The F&M Poll found that voters have different motivations for supporting Biden or Trump. A majority of the voters who said they plan to vote for Biden said they are motivated to vote against Trump, not specifically for Biden. Among Trump voters, four-in-five said they are voting for the president.
Small but significant portions of Pennsylvania voters who support Biden or Trump say they are very concerned about the election’s outcome. If Trump wins, a majority of Biden supporters believe the nation will be torn apart or they will be personally devastated. If Biden wins, 14% of Trump’s supporters are worried about taxes and 9% are concerned about the country moving toward socialism.
“It does indicate the real hostility that Democrats have toward Trump,” Madonna said of the findings.