Joe Biden is leading in Florida as Donald Trump’s popularity sags

Crises have diminished Trump's standing with nearly every demographic.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020, and President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington on April 5, 2020. [ PATRICK SEMANSKY | AP ]
Published July 2, 2020|Updated July 2, 2020

President Donald Trump is losing his hold on important swing voters in Florida, imperiling his chance of another four years in office, according to recent polls.

The global health catastrophe, ensuing economic collapse and protests nationwide have tested Trump’s leadership and left his popularity diminished, polls have found. The fallout has created an opening in the country’s largest swing state for his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden leads Trump in Florida by 5 percentage points, 47.4 percent to 42.5 percent according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of statewide polling data.

The average isn’t perfect, and neither is any poll. Each poll comes with a margin of error, an estimate of its accuracy. Usually, it means that 95 percent of the time, a candidate’s support should be within that margin of error range. There is no range for the poll average — it simply uses multiple polls to provide a more precise estimate than any one particular survey.

Starting this week and continuing through the election, the Times will track and update on its website the average of the last five nonpartisan polls from unique pollsters as new poll results are released.

If the polls prove true and if Trump cannot make up that ground in the next four months, Biden is likely to become the next president. While Biden can afford to lose Florida’s 29 electoral college votes, Trump has virtually no path to win the White House without carrying the Sunshine State.

As recently as March and April, some polls showed Trump leading Biden in Florida, or at least in a dead heat. But with the country upended and his campaign stalled by the coronanvirus, the president’s net approval rating in the state has plummeted by double digits.

One pollster, Fox News, showed Floridians across nearly every gender, racial and age group were less happy with the job Trump was doing than they were two months earlier. Suburban voters, white women and white voters with college degrees have all flipped to holding negative views of Trump. Among white men, Trump’s approval remains strong: 57 percent approve 41 percent disapprove. Among men overall, however, Trump is treading water, 49 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove.

Trump’s campaign insists the president is on track to recapture Florida, a state he won four years ago by a 1.2-percent margin over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. In a recent campaign memo, Deputy Campaign Manager Bill Stepien said the recent spate of polling showing Trump in trouble was “flawed and non-predictive,” citing 2016 polls that showed Clinton ahead of Trump for most of the summer and fall.

“President Donald Trump has the largest ground game in presidential history while Joe Biden hides in his basement,” said campaign spokesman Rick Gorka. “The choice is clear, and we look forward to giving Joe Biden all the time he wants in his basement once he’s fully retired.”

But Trump’s campaign once hoped it could bring the Electoral College fight to other states and put Democrats on the defensive in blue strongholds out west and in the northeast. Instead, the campaign is so far battling over once-secure turf and frequently returning the spotlight on Florida.

Trump launched his campaign at a rowdy arena in Orlando more than a year ago, changed his primary residence to his estate at Mar-A-Lago and recently moved the Republican National Convention, the biggest election-year event, to Jacksonville. Meanwhile, he has frequently sent high-profile surrogates to the Sunshine State, as evidenced by Vice President Mike Pence’s visit Thursday to Tampa.

Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, has made Florida a focal point of his summer election strategy, which to date has involved keeping a relatively low profile. His first major event of the post-coronavirus campaign was in Tampa — a glitchy, virtual rally that devolved into a debacle, complete with long stretches of blank screen, a pixelated Biden and a less-than-energetic DJ.

If anything, the rally demonstrated the unprecedented conditions candidates are encountering amid the pandemic. Biden’s campaign is on the air with three ads in Florida, including a Spanish-language commercial aimed at the state’s considerable Hispanic population.

In a memo obtained by the Times, Biden’s director of paid media Patrick Bonsignore said the campaign is “establishing a presence in the Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville markets” and “in the Panhandle to get in front of white working-class voters who moved from (Barack) Obama in ’12 to Trump in ’16 as well as open a conversation with the African-American voters in the Panhandle who will be crucial to mobilize early.”

For most of his four years in office, Trump’s support was stable in Florida while it fluctuated elsewhere. Republicans even managed to nearly sweep statewide races in 2018 amid the so-called Blue Wave election.

Some Democrats wondered if it was worth the cost to go head-to-head with Trump in Florida when winning back Rust Belt states seemed far more economical and feasible. Those doubts have been erased.

“It’s not a state that is wired for a big win,” said Steve Schale, a Florida Democratic strategist who is helping a Super PAC supporting Biden, “but it’s nice for those of us that have been preaching for three years that Florida would be competitive again.”

Trump trailed at this point in the race in 2016, too. According to an average of polls during that period by RealClearPolitics, Clinton was up by 3.5 points.

But not only is Biden’s lead larger than Clinton’s summer advantage, it appears stronger, especially among white voters. More white voters have already made up their minds in 2020 than at this point in 2016, and though most still prefer Trump, if Biden maintains 40 percent of the white vote in November, it would be a huge improvement for Democrats over 2016, when they lost the group 32 to 64, according to exit polls.

Trump has responded to this polling data by digging in deeper with messages tailor-made for the Republicans who have not wavered in their support.

“They’re going to do a pure base play because, honestly, it’s all Trump has,” said Rick Wilson, a former Republican strategist working for the Lincoln Project, a group of GOP ex-pats trying to oust Trump by targeting other disenchanted conservatives and moderates. “Someone called it the one-note flute. It’s the only thing he can do.”

Trump’s team, though, sees weakness in Biden’s support. A recent New York Times/Siena poll showed 61 percent of Biden’s Florida voters are casting a ballot against Trump and not for the presumptive Democratic nominee. That sentiment was higher here than five of the other six swing states polled.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of Trump’s voters are excited to vote him into the White House for another four years. Stepien, with the Trump campaign, said that energy gap will decide the election.

“The lack of enthusiasm,” Stepien said, “does not portend well for the November turnout needed to defeat an incumbent president with an enthusiastic base.”