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Yahoo News/YouGov poll: The tide turns against Trump as Biden surges to his largest-ever lead among likely voters

Andrew Romano
·West Coast Correspondent
·6-min read

With only two weeks left until Election Day, Joe Biden’s lead over President Trump has widened to 11 percentage points — Biden’s biggest margin among likely voters in any Yahoo News/YouGov poll to date.

The survey, which was conducted from Oct. 16 to 18, shows that a majority of likely voters (51 percent) now say they are voting for the Democratic nominee, while just 40 percent say they are voting for Trump. Biden’s lead, which is identical among registered voters, has grown by 3 points since last week’s Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

The president has struggled to rebound over the past three weeks from a widely panned first debate performance and a COVID-19 outbreak that sent him to the hospital and sickened others in and around the White House. Yet the main reason Trump appears to have fallen even further behind Biden in recent days is that coronavirus cases are peaking just as the campaign is coming to a close. On Friday, new daily cases cleared 70,000 nationwide for the first time since July; hospitalizations are increasing in 39 states, and are at or near their all-time peak in 16 states.

Trump vented his frustration with the coronavirus on a campaign call Monday, saying, “People are tired of COVID. I have these huge rallies. People are saying, ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it. People are tired of hearing [Anthony] Fauci and all these idiots.”

Tired or not, Americans have growing concerns about Trump’s leadership amid a resurgent pandemic — and those concerns appear to be dimming his hopes of a comeback. Nearly two-thirds of registered voters (63 percent) now say the “number of cases is increasing,” up sharply from 57 percent last week and 48 percent the week before that. A full 60 percent think the pandemic will get worse this fall; only 15 percent think it will get better.

As a result, Biden’s existing advantage over Trump on the question of who would do a better job handling COVID-19 — the top issue of 2020 — has nearly tripled from 7 points two weeks ago (45 percent to 38 percent) to 19 points today (52 percent to 33 percent). Sixty-three percent say Trump has not been wearing a mask or social distancing appropriately; 60 percent say he has not followed the advice of medical experts closely enough; and 59 percent say he has underestimated the risks of COVID-19 — something that just 8 percent of registered voters say about Biden.

In dealing with the pandemic, a majority (54 percent) say the former vice president has behaved appropriately.

Key demographic groups are moving away from Trump in response. Right now, the president is losing independents, 39 percent to 37 percent; he won them by 4 points in 2016. He is losing suburban voters by 14 points (50 percent to 36 percent); he also won them by 4 points in 2016. Trump’s current leads among white voters (7 points) and seniors (3 points) are less than half of what they were four years ago (20 points and 7 points, respectively). Nine percent of 2016 Trump voters now say they are voting for Biden; just 4 percent of 2016 Hillary Clinton voters say they are voting for Trump.

Meanwhile, the president is running out of time to resurrect his reelection bid. Just 5 percent of likely voters remain undecided, and a mere 3 percent say there is still “a chance I will change my mind” in the next two weeks. Even worse for Trump is that his supporters appear far more open to flipping than Biden’s, with just 1 percent of Biden voters saying they could still change their minds versus 7 percent of Trump voters.

With early voting well underway across the country, the percentage of ballots already cast is growing rapidly — and Biden is banking far more votes than Trump. Last week, 17 percent of likely voters said they had already voted; this week, that percentage has more than doubled, to 38 percent. Given the inherent lag of mail balloting and recent nature of most of these votes — 75 percent of early voters say they voted during the past week — such numbers suggest that the early vote tally could soon hit an unprecedented 60 million.

Joe Biden turns from the podium after speaking during a campaign event at Riverside High School in Durham, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Joe Biden at a campaign event in Durham, N.C., on Sunday. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The partisan split between early voting and Election Day voting is striking. Yahoo News and YouGov estimate that among the ballots already cast, Biden leads Trump, 71 percent to 25 percent. A majority (52 percent) of Biden voters say they have already voted, with 43 percent choosing to mail their ballot and 9 percent choosing to vote early in person. In contrast, just 24 percent of Trump voters have cast their ballots so far: 17 percent by mail, 7 percent in person. Half of Trump voters say they will wait until Election Day to vote in person, versus just 16 percent of Biden voters.

It remains to be seen whether enough Trump voters show up on Nov. 3 to overcome Biden’s early lead. But the poll suggests that Trump’s two biggest remaining opportunities to shake up the campaign might not pack much of a punch.

The president had hoped that nominating conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, for instance, would rally voters to his side. Yet support for Barrett’s confirmation actually slipped 8 points (flipping from 44-40 percent in favor to 44-40 percent opposed) during the past week, in part because a plurality of registered voters (31 percent to 21 percent) now think that the court will overturn Roe v. Wade if she joins it — a decision they would oppose by a 61 to 22 percent margin. Likewise, a similar plurality (27 percent to 19 percent) thinks a court with Barrett on it would overturn the Affordable Care Act — a decision voters would oppose by a 50 to 30 percent margin.

At the same time, interest in the final presidential debate — perhaps Trump’s last chance to change the dynamic of the race — is waning. Just 41 percent of registered voters say they plan to watch on Oct. 22, compared with 53 percent who said they had been planning to watch the first debate. Interest is even lower (34 percent) among those who are either undecided or say they could still change their minds — that is, the voters Trump needs to reach.

One last sign of trouble for the president is that for most of the year, registered voters have expected him to beat Biden. They no longer do. On Sept. 11, 43 percent said Trump was likely to win; just 39 percent said the same about Biden. But now, one month later, 44 percent pick Biden as the likely winner. Just 38 percent still think Trump will win.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,583 U.S. registered voters interviewed online from Oct. 16 to 18. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 presidential vote, registration status, geographic region and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S registered voters. The margin of error is approximately 4 percent.

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