Trump faces challenges even in red states, poll shows, as women favor Biden
By Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin
President Donald Trump is on the defensive in three red states he carried in 2016, narrowly trailing Joe Biden in Iowa and battling to stay ahead of him in Georgia and Texas, as Trump continues to face a wall of opposition from women that has also endangered his party’s control of the Senate, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.
Trump’s vulnerability even in conservative-leaning states underscores just how precarious his political position is, less than six weeks before Election Day. While he and Biden are competing aggressively for traditional swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, the poll suggests that Biden has assembled a coalition formidable enough to jeopardize Trump even in historically Republican parts of the South and Midwest.
A yawning gender gap in all three states is working in Biden’s favor, with the former vice president making inroads into conservative territory with strong support from women. In Iowa, where Biden is ahead of Trump, 45% to 42%, he is up among women by 14 percentage points. Men favor Trump by 8 points.
In Georgia, where the two candidates are tied at 45%, Biden leads among women by 10 points. Trump is ahead with men by a similar margin of 11 percentage points.
Trump’s large advantage among men in Texas is enough to give him a small advantage there, 46% to 43%. Men prefer the president to his Democratic challenger by 16 points, while women favor Biden by an 8-point margin.
There was a significant gender gap in the 2016 election, too, but at that time it tilted toward Trump because men supported him so heavily, according to exit polls. In the Times poll, Biden sharply narrowed Trump’s advantage with men while improving on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 lead with women in Texas and Iowa.
In Georgia, Biden’s lead with women essentially matched Clinton’s final advantage in the 2016 race. But where Trump carried Georgia men by 23 points four years ago, he was ahead by about half that margin with men in the state in the Times poll.
The overwhelming majority of voters — about 9 in every 10 in all three states — say they have definitely made up their minds about whom to vote for, leaving relatively little room for late developments to shift the overarching shape of the race.
The poll, conducted by phone among likely voters from Sept. 16-22, had a margin of sampling error of 4 percentage points for Texas and five in Iowa and Georgia.
Trump’s tenuous hold on some of the largest red states in the country has presented Biden with unexpected political opportunities and stirred debate among Democrats about how aggressively to contest states far outside the traditional presidential battleground. Biden has made efforts so far in a few states that voted emphatically for Trump four years ago, including Georgia and Iowa, but he has resisted pressure to compete for Texas, a huge and complicated state that Democrats believe is unlikely to furnish the decisive 270th Electoral College vote.
But the presence of competitive Senate races in many of those states has been a powerful enticement to Democrats, including Biden.
The lopsided gender dynamics of the presidential contest extend to Senate races in Iowa, Georgia and Texas, with Republican incumbents facing strong challenges from Democratic candidates favored heavily by women. The gender gap is pronounced even in Iowa, where both Senate candidates are women. The Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield, has a 2-point lead over Sen. Joni Ernst and an 11-point advantage with women.
The poll partly coincided with Trump’s announcement that he would make a new Supreme Court nomination to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but it was not clear from the survey whether voters had a particularly strong reaction to that possibility.
Mary McKinney, 48, of St. Charles, Iowa, said she supported Trump because of his plain-spoken manner but felt the Supreme Court process was moving “a little fast,” adding that she would not support efforts to outlaw abortion.
“I don’t like abortion, but I don’t like a woman being forced to carry a baby due to a traumatic incident, so I guess I’m kind of neutral on that,” said McKinney, who works at home as a foster parent.
Reflecting the conservative tilt of the states polled, Trump and his party are in better shape than in most of the others recently polled by The Times, and he may ultimately carry all of them. The president’s approval rating is in positive territory in Texas, and voters are almost evenly split in Iowa and Georgia. That is markedly stronger than Trump’s standing in core swing states like Wisconsin and Arizona.
Trump has maintained an enduring advantage over Biden on economic issues, and that extends to all three states in the Times poll. And where voters elsewhere have heavily favored Biden over Trump on the issue of managing the coronavirus pandemic, voters in Texas and Georgia are closely divided on that score. Biden still holds a sizable advantage on the issue in Iowa.
In Georgia and Texas, the election is also split along racial lines. Trump is winning about two-thirds of white voters in both Georgia and Texas, while Biden leads by enormous margins with Black voters in both states. Hispanic voters in Texas favor Biden by 25 points, 57% to 32%.
Still, many of the same voters, in heavily white Iowa and two traditionally conservative Southern states, are not as dismissive of systemic racism as Trump is. In each state, half or more of those surveyed found racism in the country’s criminal justice system to be a bigger problem than rioting.
And as with The Times surveys of other competitive states from earlier this month, voters expressed little confidence in Trump’s ability to heal the country.
Jeff Secora of Mason City, Iowa, is the kind of voter Biden will have to keep in his camp to carry the state. Secora, 63, an independent, said he had voted for Trump in 2016 but had grown fed up. He said he had reservations about Biden but preferred his “honesty and integrity” to the president’s character.
“He is polarizing, and he’s proud of it, and it just makes this country look weaker to our enemies,” Secora said of Trump, adding: “He lies all the time. He’s totally unpresidential. He makes Richard Nixon look like a choir boy.”
The Senate races in the three states also highlight the same forces that are propelling Biden’s candidacy. Democrats currently appear to have a good shot of achieving a 50-50 split in the Senate, but in order to win an outright majority they would have to push deeper into Republican-leaning states.
The party may have its best chance of such a pickup in Iowa, where Greenfield, the Democrat, is capturing 42% of the vote to 40% for Ernst, a dangerously low number for an incumbent this late in the race.
In addition to leading among women, Greenfield is ahead by 10 points among voters older than 65, a group that Ernst won overwhelmingly when she captured her seat six years ago.
In Georgia, where there are two Senate races on the ballot, Republicans appear better positioned but are still facing highly competitive campaigns. David Perdue is currently winning 41%, while his Democratic rival, Jon Ossoff, is taking 38%. Sixteen percent of Georgia voters said they were undecided, including a significant number of African Americans, who historically side overwhelmingly with Democrats.
The state’s other Senate race, to fill the unexpired term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson, is even more uncertain. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Republican appointed to replace Isakson, is in a multicandidate race with a host of other contenders. If nobody gets 50%, the top two vote-getters would advance to a January runoff, which could prove pivotal in a narrowly divided Senate.
Loeffler is winning 23% of the vote, while her nearest Republican rival, Rep. Doug Collins, is garnering 19%. The top Democratic vote-getter is the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who’s also taking 19% of the vote. The highest vote share in the race, however, is not currently residing with any candidate: 27% of Georgians said they were undecided in the race.
Both Loeffler and Collins have tied themselves closely to Trump in the hope of gaining a decisive advantage with conservatives in the first round of voting. But in a runoff, either of them would be confronting a rising population of younger people and Black and Latino voters who reject the president.
One of those voters is Casey Andre-Lindsay, 41, of Roswell, who said she planned to vote for Biden. Andre-Lindsay, who lost her job this year, said she saw Trump’s agenda as defined by turning back progress. Of Republicans, she said, “It doesn’t seem like they want it to be a democracy where people speak up anymore.”
“It’s going to take a decade to fix the things that he is trying to dismantle,” Andre-Lindsay said of Trump.
The Texas Senate race appears to be the best bet for Republicans among the three states. Sen. John Cornyn, who’s seeking a fourth term, is winning 42% of the vote, while M.J. Hegar, the Democrat, is taking 37%.
Still, that a long-serving official such as Cornyn is not more firmly in control of the race illustrates the increasingly competitive nature of Texas elections and the GOP’s struggles with suburban voters. Cornyn’s advantage is powered almost entirely by rural voters: he’s trailing significantly among those who live in cities and has just a 2-point advantage with suburbanites, 17% of whom said they were still undecided.
A significant danger looming for Texas Republicans is that Trump’s hard-line immigration policies are increasingly out of step with where the state is today and where it is heading.
Three-quarters of the state’s voters support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally, including 98% of Texans under 30. Just 20% of Texans overall opposed such a process.
Texans were closely split on Trump’s proposal for a border wall. But opposition to such a wall is overwhelming among younger voters and significant among independents and those living in the state’s cities and suburbs.