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Poll finds a tight presidential race and bad news for Democrats in key battleground states

'They want to be socialists, and this is not a socialist country'

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With one year to go to Election Day 2020, a New York Times/Siena College poll released Monday morning shows trouble for Democrats heading into next year.

Although President Donald Trump is ensnared in a major controversy regarding his dealings with Ukraine, the poll of registered voters finds him leading Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), tied with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and down two points from former Vice President Joe Biden in an average of the results across the key battleground states.

Among likely voters, the data is slightly more favorable for Trump showing him leading Warren by three points; up one point against Sanders; and down one versus Biden in the same states.

How do the numbers look?

The researchers interviewed 3,766 voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina. Democrats have to win at least three of these states to clinch the Electoral College.

Among Registered Voters:

  • Michigan: Trump tied with Biden; Trump +2 over Sanders; Trump +6 over Warren
  • Pennsylvania: Biden +3 over Trump; Sanders +1 over Trump; Trump tied with Warren
  • Wisconsin: Biden +3 over Trump; Sanders +2 over Trump; Trump tied with Warren
  • Florida: Biden +2 over Trump; Trump +1 over Sanders; Trump +4 over Warren
  • Arizona: Biden +5 over Trump; Trump +1 over Sanders; Warren +2 over Trump
  • North Carolina: Trump + 2 over Biden; Trump + 3 over Sanders; Trump +3 over Warren

Among Likely Voters:

  • Michigan: Biden +1 over Trump; Sanders +3 over Trump; Trump +4 over Warren
  • Pennsylvania: Biden +1 over Trump; Trump +1 over Sanders; Trump +2 over Warren
  • Wisconsin: Biden +2 over Trump; Trump tied with Sanders; Trump +2 over Warren
  • Florida: Biden +2 over Trump; Trump +2 over Sanders; Trump +4 over Warren
  • Arizona: Biden +2 over Trump; Trump +4 over Sanders; Trump tied with Warren
  • North Carolina: Trump + 2 over Biden; Trump + 4 over Sanders; Trump +4 over Warren

Warren seen as too radical

The Times notes that while Biden currently fares the best against Trump among the Democrats tested, the poll results do not necessarily bode well for him.

"His appeal to Democrats hinges on the view that he's a safe bet against the president, yet his lead against Mr. Trump is not nearly so comfortable that he could be considered a sure thing," wrote reporter Nate Cohn.

This study also found that swing state voters expressed concerns with the ideology and likability of Warren, who many consider the current front-runner of the race as she currently leads the Democratic field in the primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire:

The results suggest that Ms. Warren, who has emerged as a front-runner for the Democratic nomination, might face a number of obstacles in her pursuit of the presidency. The poll supports concerns among some Democrats that her ideology and gender — including the fraught question of "likability" — could hobble her candidacy among a crucial sliver of the electorate. And not only does she underperform her rivals, but the poll also suggests that the race could be close enough for the difference to be decisive.

Moreover, as the Times' analysis shows, there are a considerable number of voters who would be willing to back Biden but not Warren:

Dawn Marshall, an independent from Tampa, Fla., said that with the exception of Mr. Biden, the Democrats running for president are too left-leaning for her. "They want to be socialists, and this is not a socialistic country," she said. "This is a working country where people go out, do the best that they can do, find jobs. I am so sick and tired of having to support other folks. We can't be equal."

The Times/Siena poll also points to exceptionally high voter turnout next year.

"More than 90 percent of registered voters say they're 'almost certain' or 'very likely to vote,'" said Cohn in his analysis while noting this exceeds the 87 percent who told pollsters the same thing in the weeks leading up the 2016 election.

Democrats are also struggling to make inroads with the same kind of voters who were critical to Trump's 2016 victory, according to the Times:

The poll offers little evidence that any Democrat, including Mr. Biden, has made substantial progress toward winning back the white working-class voters who defected to the president in 2016, at least so far. All the leading Democratic candidates trail in the precincts or counties that voted for Barack Obama and then flipped to Mr. Trump.

The study also found that nearly two-thirds of 2016 Trump voters who backed Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections said they would support the president in his re-election effort.

This writer's perspective: Problematic for Dems

Certainly, some of the data cut both ways. For instance, 55 percent of 2016 third-party voters are indicating they would back Biden over Trump in 2020. However, overall, this poll has to raise red flags among Democrats. Consider that the president's approval ratings have been stable in the low 40s; 92% of the media coverage concerning him is negative; and he's in the middle of a major scandal. Yet, he is beating the Democrats' front-runner (Warren) and within striking distance of their most electable candidate, Biden.

Of course, we are one year out and things could change. A greater share of Americans could sour on the president due to the impeachment inquiry. Conversely, unsavory headlines about the Democrats could emerge and the Trump campaign has not ramped up its negative advertising against Democrats (though, as Biden strategist Steve Schale pointed out to me on Twitter Monday morning, Team #KAG has already begun taking shots at the former vice president).

Nonetheless, what this poll shows is that the president's coalition is largely sticking by him and a significant chunk of swing voters are turned off by Warren who is leading the pack in Iowa and New Hampshire. It is also worth noting that Biden enjoys nearly ubiquitous name recognition and is drawing support from constituencies that are not traditionally reliable Democrats. However, it remains to be seen whether these voters will stay with him throughout the next year should he win the nomination.

We have a long way to go to 2020 and by no means is President Trump in the clear, but this poll shows that if the election were held today, we could see a replay of 2016: Another long, bad night for Democrats — followed by calls to eliminate the Electoral College.

One last thing…
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