EXCLUSIVE SURVEY: Democrats Lead Trump in Key Swing States

September 12, 2019

Firehouse/0ptimus September General Election Poll: Slight Majority Say Trump’s Deception on Hurricane Dorian “A big deal”

Each quarter this year, we have surveyed 2020 general election voters to gauge public opinion heading into 2020. This month we surveyed general election likely voters in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan through a combination of live landline, live cell, and text messaging between September 7th and September 9th. A summary of our results is presented below.

Overall, Trump continues to struggle in these three states. He trails Biden in all three states, and only leads Warren and Sanders in Michigan. His approval rating is also underwater by 4 points in Michigan, 9 points in Pennsylvania, and 12 points in Wisconsin. There seems to be more upside for the Democrats than Trump at the moment, though with over a year left, the landscape can change drastically between now and election day, as it did in 2016.

Key Findings:

General Election Ballot Tests: We asked 2020 likely general election voters a series of head-to-head ballot tests against the three Democratic Presidential candidates with the highest current polling numbers: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Given the electoral math, the Democratic nominee likely needs to win some or all of these Midwestern states to win the election.

In Wisconsin, we find all three candidates with a lead over Trump, though still within the margin of error. Sanders has the largest lead at +6, followed by Biden at +2 and Warren at +1. Among independents/others, Sanders leads Trump by 9 points. Warren trails Trump by 1 among this group, and Biden leads by only 2.

In Michigan, Biden fares the best among the three candidates, the only one of the three with a lead (+4), though also within the margin of error. We find Warren and Sanders both trailing Trump, by 2 and 3 points respectively. Interestingly, the gender gap is larger with a Biden-Trump matchup than with a Warren-Trump matchup. Biden leads by 14 points among females and Trump leads by 12 among males, while Warren leads by 8 among females and Trump leads by 12 among males. Sanders leads females by 6, while Trump leads by 13 among males in that matchup.

In Pennsylvania, President Trump is currently losing in head-to-head matchups against each of the three Democratic frontrunners. Trump performs the worst against Biden, where the Scranton-native enjoys a lead of 4 percentage points. Against Warren and Sanders, Trump is down 2 percentage points to each. 

  • KEY POINT: Overall, we find the Democrats with narrow leads in three of the most crucial 2020 states. These numbers are more favorable to Democrats on the whole than our findings in June- but with over a year to go, the presidential race has many twists and turns in store.  


Trump’s Weak Job Approval: We once again find Trump’s job approval numbers underwater in each state. His best state is Michigan, where we found 45% approve and 49% disapprove of his performance. In Pennsylvania, 43% approve while 52% disapprove. And in Wisconsin, 42% approve while 54% disapprove. In each state, the proportion of strong opinions is dominated by strong disapprovers. For instance, In Wisconsin strong disapprovers make up 50% of all respondents. In each state, at least 10% of respondents somewhat approve of his performance. This seems to indicate that he has much more room to fall than to rise in these states.

  • KEY POINT: Trump remains underwater among 2020 voters in these three key states.


Hurricane Dorian Map: Over the past week, controversy has erupted over Donald Trump’s handling of Hurricane Dorian as it devastated the Bahamas and skirted by the US east coast. In particular, his modification of a National Hurricane Center forecast to include Alabama raised eyebrows. We asked voters if they had seen, heard, or read anything about this event, and roughly 6 in 10 respondents in each state said they had. Of those who say they had heard about it, majorities in each state (WI: 59%; MI: 61%; PA: 55%) said that it bothered them.

  • KEY POINT: Trump kept a seemingly insignificant tweet in the news cycle for several days and went to big lengths to try to be proven correct, but he does not appear to have the public on his side on this issue.


Methodology Summary: The Firehouse/0ptimus survey was conducted 9/7 through 9/9 and interviewed 1,590 likely 2020 general election voters in Wisconsin (N = 534), Michigan (N = 529), and Pennsylvania (N = 527) via live landline (WI: 207; MI: 221; PA: 219), live cellphone (WI: 119; MI: 118; PA: 107), and text messaging (WI: 208; MI: 203; PA: 201). Likely voters were identified as those who voted in either the 2016 or 2018 general elections plus additional voters who are expected to vote in the 2020 election as determined by 0ptimus turnout modeling. Each state sample was weighted by age group, gender, education, and political party to reflect the demographic characteristics of the likely voter population within each state. Margins of error vary by question and segment but is generally ± 4.0% in WI, ± 4.0% in MI, and ± 4.2% in PA for the topline results.

Our full methodology statement is available on our GitHub repository.