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UW poll: Joe Biden widens lead over Donald Trump in Wisconsin
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ELECTION 2020 | UW POLL

UW poll: Joe Biden widens lead over Donald Trump in Wisconsin

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With the election just eight days away, Democratic candidate Joe Biden holds a 9-point lead over Republican President Donald Trump in Wisconsin, according to a new poll.

The poll found that while Trump has the edge among respondents who have yet to vote, the margin does not appear large enough to compensate for Biden’s advantage among early and absentee voters.

In Wisconsin, 53% of likely voters — registered voters who say they are certain to vote or have already voted — support Biden, compared with 44% for Trump. The results mark a shift from last month’s poll, when Biden led Trump 49% to 44% among registered voters in the state.

“It’s actually the first time that the margin is big enough that we can say it’s statistically significant, even accounting for the margin of error,” said Barry Burden, a UW-Madison political science professor and director of the Elections Research Center. “It’s not a guarantee that Biden will win the election, but it is saying that we can be pretty confident from the data that he is in the lead among the people who were interviewed.”

Among Wisconsin respondents who have already voted, 73% say they’ve chosen Biden, while only 26% have gone for Trump. Among those who have yet to vote, 57% support Trump, compared with 39% for Biden. State Democratic leaders have been making a major push for early voting across the state, due in large part to concerns of crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The lead that Biden is building with the early votes looks like it’s larger than what the Trump voters can compensate for by showing up on Election Day,” Burden said “I think that’s the big uncertainty in this presidential election, how many Trump voters are still waiting out there to vote and will they make a strong showing?”

The Wisconsin poll, which included 800 respondents and was conducted Oct. 13-21 by YouGov, was overseen by the UW-Madison Elections Research Center in collaboration with the Wisconsin State Journal. The margin of error for the latest poll is +/-3.73 percentage points for the full sample and +/- 4.07 percentage points for likely voters.

Unsurprisingly, partisanship played a large role in which candidate respondents have or plan to vote for, with 97% of Democratic respondents backing Biden, and 92% of Republicans supporting Trump. Among Independents, 55% support Biden, while 39% back Trump.

However, Biden holds what Burden called “a huge edge” among respondents who identify as moderate voters with 70%, compared with 26% for Trump.

Trump’s challenge

Burden said the poll underscores the need for Trump to find a way to appeal to voters outside his conservative base. Only 3% of independent respondents, and 2% of moderate respondents, said they were unsure or planned to vote for a candidate other than Biden or Trump.

“Even if they all went to Trump, that’s not enough,” Burden said. “To make up the difference he really does need to find some additional voters to turn out for him or win over some people who are leaning toward Biden.”

Burden said the latest poll also seems to indicate that Trump’s scattershot approach to campaign issues does not appear to be resonating with voters. Trump’s messaging has ranged from criticisms of Biden and pleas to suburban voters, to efforts to shift the conversation away from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, to his push for “law and order” against the “radical left.”

“None of that is really sticking very much and I think it’s a sign of worry for an incumbent that the Trump campaign is jumping from one idea to another in these final days of the campaign,” Burden said.

Trump made his seventh visit to the state on Saturday, holding a rally in Waukesha. On Tuesday, he plans to make another stop in West Salem, near La Crosse.

Issues

As with previous polls, there remains a considerable difference between Biden and Trump voters with regard to what Wisconsinites view as the most important issues facing the country.

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The coronavirus outbreak was selected as the most important issue facing the nation by 52% of respondents likely to vote for Biden. Health care and the economy were the next closest issues, with 13% and 10%, respectively.

Among likely Trump voters, the economy was the top issue at 45%, followed by the outbreak at 19%. Supreme Court appointments were the third-biggest issue at 9%.

Madison resident Madelyn Spindler, 22, recently graduated from UW-Waukesha and is working at Kwik Trip. Spindler said her enthusiasm for Biden has grown in the last several months — the vice presidential pick of California Sen. Kamala Harris brought more energy to Biden’s campaign, and made her excited about the Democratic ticket.

Spindler said she has grown increasingly frustrated with Trump after the president refused to condemn white supremacy during the first presidential debate and downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic even after testing positive. She said Trump has not shown leadership during the outbreak, and she thinks Biden will.

“We just need a leader that has been taking the right precautions from the beginning,” Spindler said.

Asked who is most at fault for the spread of COVID-19, which has killed 1,770 Wisconsinites and infected more than 190,000, 77% of likely Biden voters pointed the blame at Trump, compared with only 2% of respondents likely to vote for the president. Among likely Trump voters, 68% blame the outbreak on China — marking a shift away from previous polling where more blame was placed on Congress and state governments.

Tim Garcia, a 41-year-old project manager from Beaver Dam who identifies as a moderate voter, said he hasn’t changed his mind over the course of the year, and still plans to vote for Trump.

Garcia, who is biracial and voted for Trump in 2016, said he feels equality is one of the top issues facing the country.

“I don’t see him being the racist that people say he is,” Garcia said. “I don’t see him using the name China virus as a bad thing. You hear people still saying the Spanish flu. The Spanish flu didn’t even originate in Spain.”

Performance

As with other polls, Trump’s overall job performance remains relatively stable, with 27% of Wisconsin respondents strongly approving of the president’s overall job handling. Another 46% strongly disapprove.

Trump’s handling of the economy also remains consistent, with 35% strongly approving in Wisconsin, compared with 40% who strongly disapprove.

The poll also found eroding support for Gov. Tony Evers’ handling of his job, with 19% strongly approving and 29% strongly disapproving. The state has become a national hotspot for the COVID-19 outbreak. Evers has had his statewide orders to control the virus blocked by the Supreme Court and not taken up by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Waunakee resident Mike Byrnes, 63, said in February that he planned to vote for Trump, while his wife, Dee, planned to vote for Biden. But by the end of September they were both leaning toward not voting at all.

Byrnes and his wife own a bar in the village of Dane and have been struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve had to dip into their personal savings to keep their small business going.

Byrnes said the experience has made him lose trust in politicians because Evers — whom Byrnes voted for — said he would support taverns. Byrnes said the state hasn’t provided him with much support, and he doesn’t want to vote for another politician who would leave him out to dry. He’s not confident Trump would do anything to help his small business.

“We’re in a world of (expletive) right now. We really are,” Byrnes said. “And I don’t think Biden or Trump, they don’t understand what’s going on.”

State Journal reporters Emily Hamer and Riley Vetterkind contributed to this report.

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The candidates for the Nov. 3 election have accepted their party nominations. Who will win the key battleground state of Wisconsin?

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