WASHINGTON — As the 2020 presidential campaign heads toward the fall, Joe Biden leads on a number of key issues with voters, but President Donald Trump gets stronger support on the economy, which voters say is their biggest concern, according to the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
The numbers offer one reason why the election could become close again, and despite Biden’s consistent lead in the poll overall, they suggest a way the president could still tip the race back in his favor.
Overall, Biden leads Trump by 9 points in a head-to-head matchup in the survey and behind that edge is a list of issues where the Democratic challenger outperforms the president.
On a majority of issues Biden does better than Trump, including on his ability to “bring the country together," where 49 percent believe Biden is the better choice, compared to 26 percent for the president. Biden also does better than Trump on dealing with race relations, 53 percent to 29 percent, and on dealing with the coronavirus, 49 percent to 33 percent.
Considering the headlines of the last few months, that’s an important set of topics. The racial and political divisions in the country have been a major topic of conversation in the country since the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. And the continued rising death count from COVID-19, now at almost 170,000, has shaken the country this summer.
Trump, meanwhile, leads with voters on far fewer issues in the poll, but his main strength, how to handle the economy, is usually a big driver at election time.
Trump holds a narrow lead on the issue of which candidate would better deal with crime, 43 percent versus 39 percent for Biden. And Trump does slightly better with voters who are worried about the candidate “having the necessary mental and physical health to be president,” 39 percent to 37 percent for Biden. But the president’s edge on the economy is sizable, and he holds a 48 percent to 38 percent advantage over Biden on that topic.
That 10-point edge may be Trump’s best bet to move the polls and change the race before November. The NBC News/WSJ survey suggests that as of right now, the economy is the main issue on people’s minds.
More than half of all voters, 51 percent, say a candidate’s ability to “deal with the economy” is the first or second most important issue in determining their vote. That was the only issue in that “most important” group that broke 50 percent.
But on other top issues, Biden was the candidate of choice, and often by large margins.
In the survey, 43 percent said having a candidate who can “bring the country together” was a top concern and among those voters Biden held a 23-point edge. A third of voters said they cared most that the next president had “strong leadership qualities," and Biden held a 4-point edge among them. And more than a quarter of voters said their top issue was which candidate could better deal with health care and the coronavirus; Biden held 16-point advantages among voters who most cared about those issues.
The numbers raise a lot of questions as the campaign year heads into the stretch run.
Can Trump, who is not known for being a disciplined candidate, focus on the one issue where he has the best traction with voters? Can he maintain that edge if the unemployment rate continues to hold in the double digits during the pandemic? And in 2020, where the big events keep coming, is it better to lead on the always important “economy” issue or on the raft of other matters that are dominating the news, including the pandemic?
Right now, with Biden holding a 9-point lead in the poll overall, the economy alone doesn’t appear to hold the power it usually does. The Trump campaign has about 12 weeks to figure out how to change that storyline.