Response to coronavirus drags down Trump and key senators in poll

In the swing states, President Donald Trump is still lagging across the board in polls.
In the swing states, President Donald Trump is still lagging across the board in polls.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - US President Donald Trump's mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has imperiled both his own reelection and his party's majority in the Senate, and Republican lawmakers in crucial states like Arizona, North Carolina and Maine have fallen behind their Democratic challengers amid broad disapproval of the president, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden led Mr Trump by wide margins in Arizona, where he was ahead by 9 percentage points, and Maine, where he led by 17 points. The race was effectively tied in North Carolina, with Mr Biden ahead by 1 point, 45 per cent to 44 per cent.

In all three states, Democratic Senate candidates were leading Republican incumbents by 5 percentage points or more. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican seeking a fifth term, is in a difficult battle against Ms Sara Gideon, trailing by 5 points as voters there delivered a damning verdict on Mr Trump's stewardship: By a 25-point margin, 60 per cent to 35 per cent, they said they trusted Mr Biden over Mr Trump on the issue of the pandemic.

The battle for control of the Senate is likely to move rapidly to the foreground of national politics after the death on Friday (Sept 18) of Ms Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal Supreme Court justice.

Republicans are expected to seek to appoint a replacement, despite having argued in 2016 that a vacant Supreme Court seat should not be filled in an election year, and Mr Trump recently challenged Mr Biden to unveil a list of people he would consider naming to the court.

Voters in The Times poll, which was taken before Ms Ginsburg's death, said they trusted Mr Biden more than Mr Trump to fill a Supreme Court seat, by wide margins in Arizona and Maine and a slim plurality in North Carolina.

A Supreme Court fight could be particularly challenging for Ms Collins, who has already been facing considerable backlash for her vote in 2018 to approve Justice Brett Kavanaugh's nomination.

The poll, conducted among likely voters, suggests that the most endangered Republican lawmakers have not managed to convince many voters to view them in more favourable terms than the leader of their party, who remains in political peril with less than 50 days remaining in the campaign.

Democrats appear well positioned to gain several Senate seats, and most voters say they would prefer to see the White House and Senate controlled by the same party. But it is not yet clear that Democrats are on track to gain a clear majority, and their hopes outside the races tested in the poll largely depend on winning in states Mr Trump is likely to carry.

In the swing states, Mr Trump is still lagging across the board. The Times has polled seven presidential battlegrounds in the last two weeks, and the president has not led in any of them, and in no state did he amass more than 44 per cent of the vote.

Though he has repeatedly tried to shift the focus away from the virus, he has not established a meaningful advantage over Mr Biden on any issue of equal urgency: Voters see Mr Trump as somewhat more credible on issues of the economy and public order than on the pandemic, but not to the point of offsetting their overall disapproval of him.

 
 

While Maine exhibited the widest gap over the handling of the virus, voters in North Carolina, the closest presidential swing state polled so far by The Times, also preferred Mr Biden, by 52 per cent to 41 per cent. In Arizona, the difference was even more lopsided, with voters favouring Mr Biden by 16 percentage points.

The poll, conducted by phone Sept 10-16, had a margin of sampling error ranging from about 4 percentage points in Arizona to 5 percentage points in Maine.

The underlying dynamics of the race appeared to be stable and consistent with national trends, with Mr Biden leading among women, voters of colour and white voters with college degrees, and Mr Trump's strongest support coming from men and white voters who did not attend college.

There were a few variations among the states, however: In North Carolina, the poll found no substantial gender gap, while in Arizona, Mr Biden was even with Mr Trump among men and in Maine he had a slight advantage over the president with less-educated whites.

The Democrats' strong lead in Arizona, a historically Republican state, is owed to a 30-point advantage among Hispanic voters and a break-even performance with whites. And both Mr Biden and the Democratic Senate candidate, Mr Mark Kelly, are leading with voters over 65, a crucial group in a state rich with retirees. Mr Kelly was leading Senator Martha McSally among all voters, 50 per cent to 42 per cent.

 
 

Still, the battle for control of the Senate remains close. Democrats must net at least three seats to achieve a 50-50 split in the Senate, which would be enough to take control if Mr Biden were elected president and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, could cast tiebreaking votes as vice-president.

Democrats are likely to lose one seat they currently hold in Alabama, where Senator Doug Jones is a long shot for reelection, meaning they probably have to capture four seats currently held by Republicans to reach parity.

The poll indicates that Democrats are within reach of that goal. In addition to the three states polled, Democrats are favoured to win a Republican-held seat in Colorado, where Mr Biden is expected to win easily. While some voters say they intend to split their ballots, supporting a presidential candidate of one party and a Senate nominee from another, they only make up a small share of the electorate.

For the same reason, however, it is not clear how deep into the Senate map Democrats will be able to extend their gains. Many of the Republican senators up for election represent states Mr Trump won handily in 2016, including places like Iowa, South Carolina and Kansas, where Democrats are competing aggressively.

Mr Trump's disadvantage in Maine was so severe that it was not clear he would even carry the state's Republican-leaning 2nd Congressional District. The state splits its Electoral College votes by district, and four years ago Mr Trump picked up a single elector from the more conservative of Maine's two seats. But the poll showed Mr Biden with a nominal lead of 2 percentage points in that district.

 
 

Mr Trump was not without relative strengths. In North Carolina, most voters saw him as better suited than Mr Biden to manage the economy, and by slim margins preferred him on matters of national security and public order.

Mr Trump enjoyed a 2-point advantage on the economy in Arizona and was even with Mr Biden on national security, even as he trailed his challenger overall. But Mr Biden led on law and order in Arizona, and on every issue tested in Maine.