Florida race tightens and Trump has edge over Biden in Texas — Battleground Tracker poll

Joe Biden still has a small edge in Florida, but the contest has tightened since our last poll in July, from six points down to two now, amid an ebbing — if still sizable — concern about coronavirus, while President Trump has picked up a few more of the state’s remaining uncertain voters, rebuilt some of his lead among White voters and leads Joe Biden on handling the economy. (And of course, this is Florida, where races are usually close.) 

The poll was finished just before the news of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. So it remains unknown how a court vacancy might shape the presidential race in this and in other states, but we do know voters are already overwhelmingly locked into their choices with strong support, and future polls will see if it impacts voters’ already sky-high motivation to turn out, too.

In Texas, the race still looks tight as well, though the president maintains his small edge from the summer, adding perhaps a point of breathing room and is up by two points; it was one point in July.

Florida: How the race is tightening

The economy continues to be an advantage for the president in Florida, though it’s not enough to put him over the top right now. That’s partially because the connection between economic outlook and vote is not absolute. 

While almost all of Mr. Trump’s voters think he’s helping the economy recover, a quarter of Biden’s likely voters concede Mr. Trump’s policies are either helping or of neutral impact, and they’re still voting for Biden. Those voters overwhelmingly dislike how the president handles himself personally and are more likely to cite the coronavirus than the economy as a major factor for them.

Still, the economy does loom large as a top issue across partisan groups, and Mr. Trump does lead Biden among those who say it’s a major factor. In both Florida and Texas, more voters say the president would do a better job handling the economy. When we look at how directly connected the candidates’ policies are to their pocketbooks, slightly more likely Florida voters, and many more Texas voters, say Mr. Trump’s economic policies would help their family’s financial situation than feel Biden’s would help them.

Where Biden has a large policy edge of his own is on health care: a majority of likely voters feel Biden’s policies would help people get affordable care, a 21-point gap compared to those who feel Mr. Trump’s policies would help them do so.

But the virus still weighs on Trump

Though coronavirus cases continue to rise, voters in both states feel more positive about efforts to contain the coronavirus now than they did this summer: the percentage who say efforts are going well has ticked up across party lines.

Florida seniors’ concern about getting coronavirus is related to vote, just as it was in July — those most concerned, and those for whom it is a top factor are mostly voting for Biden, and Biden is still cutting into Mr. Trump’s 2016 margins with Florida seniors. Mr. Trump’s current margin with them (9 points) is smaller than his 2016 winning margin was (17 points). More seniors now feel Biden’s response to the coronavirus would keep them safe than think the president’s response did.

But that said, the percentage of seniors very concerned about getting the virus themselves is down nine points from July, even as the issue remains a major factor in their vote. Seniors do say that the president’s policies are helping the economy recover, rather than making it worse, and that he would better handle the economy than Biden. Mr. Trump also has the edge among Florida’s seniors on who would better handle Social Security and Medicare. 

The virus is both a health and an economic factor for voters: those who felt the financial fallout from it are more likely to call the outbreak a factor in their vote. And most of them blame the administration for, in their view, making things worse.

The study comes after a week of questions about how the president described the virus early on, but partisanship means this hasn’t had a lot of impact on the already partisan views of his approach. Republicans largely accept the president’s explanation that he downplayed it to not cause a panic, or else that he made it sound as serious as he thought it was, while Democrats say he downplayed it for political reasons.

Mr. Trump has also firmed up his already high support within his own party, now at 90% of Florida Republicans (up from 86% this summer). And it furthers the narrative of an election that’s very locked-in, as eight in 10 of each candidate’s supporters say their support is “very strong,” up from this summer, and at levels last seen in Florida closer to the end of the 2016 campaign. And when we re-interviewed some of the voters from July, of the handful who were not sure at the time, more of them have moved to Mr. Trump than to Biden. (More of this small set were conservatives than liberals to begin with.)

Hispanic voters

Biden still leads with Hispanic voters in Florida, if down somewhat — though not dramatically —  at 56% today from 61% this summer. The latter number is right about where Democrats and Hillary Clinton were in 2016, so it’s probably a benchmark for Biden. But his relatively better standing from Democrats’ 2016 levels among White voters, college-degree voters and seniors also contribute to his narrow statewide lead at the moment.

The president’s numbers among Hispanics are up, to 36% from 30% — for context, that’s now tracking right about where his support was in 2016, and while still trailing overall, getting back near that mark helps the president bounce back a bit in the state.

Looking more closely inside these numbers, we also see differences in expressed turnout: Florida’s Hispanic voters are a little less likely to say they’ll definitely vote than White voters are, at 81% to 90%. And those voting for Biden follow that same pattern compared to White voters for Biden: again, likely, but relatively a little less likely. So in a race where vote choice is so locked in, minor turnout differences could matter a lot. 

Some have wondered whether the president’s criticism of Biden’s policies as “socialism” might particularly resonate with Hispanic voters in Florida, among others, though views on this seem closely tied to existing partisanship. Relatively more Hispanics see Biden’s policies as the right mix of socialism and capitalism (46%) than feel he’d move the country too far toward socialism (39%). And while 42% of Florida’s Hispanic voters view socialism at least somewhat negatively, that’s not as negative as it is among White voters, 59% of whom view it negatively. In each case, ideology is important.

Just as with voters overall, age is a factor here. Older Hispanic voters have a more negative view of socialism and are more inclined to think Biden would move the country more toward socialism than younger Hispanic voters.

And there’s a difference — as is usually the case in Florida politics — between Hispanic voters of Cuban heritage or ancestry, among whom Mr. Trump and Republicans usually do better, and those of Puerto Rican or Central American or other heritage, who favor Biden by large margins.

In Texas, where Hispanic voters tell us they are overwhelmingly of Mexican or Chicano descent, support for Biden is both a little more widespread and cuts across generational lines. Six in 10 Hispanic likely voters, young and old, currently support Biden.

White voters

The president has made back some of his margin among White voters in Florida from our survey this summer. Among White voters, Mr. Trump shows differences from Biden on a series of questions that speak to issues of race. We asked voters whether the Trump and Biden campaigns are paying too much, not enough or the right amount of attention to the needs and concerns of a series of groups, including White people, Black people and Hispanic people. 

For each of these groups, most White voters say Mr. Trump is giving them about the right amount of attention — more than say so about Biden. About a third of White voters say the Biden campaign is paying too much attention to the needs and concerns of Black people, in particular. And a majority of them say there has been too much recent attention given to issues of discrimination against Black people.

These surveys were conducted on behalf of CBS News by YouGov between September 15-18 2020. They are based on representative samples of 1,220 registered voters in Florida and 1,161 in Texas. Margins of error among registered voters are +/- 3.7 points in Florida and +/- 3.5 points in Texas.

Toplines: Florida

Texas