BREAKING: Trump Loses Ground Against Democratic Challengers in Battleground States

March 8, 2020

Firehouse/0ptimus March Battleground State Poll: Trump Loses Ground Against Democratic Challengers in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin

This week we continued our quarterly battleground polling series in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin asking likely 2020 general election voters their political opinions on President Trump, the 2020 presidential election, and other political topics.  We polled likely 2020 General Election voters through a combination of live landline, live cell, and text message to web survey modes from March 5th to March 7th. A summary of our results is presented below.

Since our last survey in December, President Trump’s lead has dropped considerably against both Vice President Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders.  In each of the three states, Trump polls better in head-to-head matchups against Sanders than against Biden.  Although Trump leads in each match-up, his leads against Biden are within the margin of error in each state, indicating a tight contest.

Key Findings:


  • Joe Biden Catches Momentum in Key Battleground States in Head-to-Head Matchups Against President Trump. Following his comeback in the Democratic Presidential Primary, Joe Biden has improved his poll numbers against President Trump in midwestern battleground states since our last survey in December. Although he hasn’t recovered his lead from last September, Biden is currently polling within the margin of error against Trump in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Most notably, Trump’s lead against Biden in Wisconsin has shrunk in the past three months from 9 percentage points (in December) to 1.5 points.


In Michigan, Trump is currently beating Vice President Biden by 2.2 percentage points and Bernie Sanders by 6.4 points.  Notably, Joe Biden outperforms Bernie Sanders by nearly 8 percentage points among female voters in the state.


In Pennsylvania, both Biden and Sanders are polling within the margin of error against President Trump. In the state, Trump is polling ahead of Biden by 1.6 percentage points and ahead of Sanders by 3.7 points (question margin of error: +/- 5.3%).  Both candidates have improved considerably since our December survey when Trump was beating Biden by 4 points and Sanders by 11 points.  Within the state, Sanders outperforms Biden by over 8 percentage points among those aged 18-35; however, Biden performs about the same share (8 points) better among those 55 years of age or older.

 In Wisconsin, President Trump saw the steepest drop in his polling numbers against Vice President Biden. Since December, Biden went from being behind by nine points to now being behind by only 1.5 points. Sanders went from trailing Trump by 13 percentage points to now only polling 6 percentage points behind. Notably, in Wisconsin especially, the difference between the Democratic challengers’ performance against Trump is driven mostly by swing voters.  That is, in a contest between Biden and Trump, voters are willing to sit out and vote for a third party candidate but, in a contest between Sanders and Trump, those voters seem to get behind the President.

KEY POINT: President Trump’s lead against the Democratic challengers shrinks considerably since December. Further, Trump continues to poll much better against Bernie Sanders than against Joe Biden.

  • Health Care Continues to Be the Top Issue on Voter’s Minds. In each of the battleground states, voters reported “Health Care” as the most important political issue facing the United States. This issue is especially a top issue for Democrats in each state (MI: 29.5%; PA: 38.4%; WI: 34.0%) while Republicans in each state argued that “The Economy” was the most important issue (MI: 25.5%; PA: 28.1%; WI: 26.0%).

While health care continues to be a major issue facing the electorate, a plurality of voters in each state reported their opposition to universal government health care programs such as single-payer or Medicare for All. Such programs are opposed by 52.7% of voters in Michigan, 51.4% in Pennsylvania, and 48.3% in Wisconsin.

KEY POINT: The focus in the 2020 election might be as health care-focused as 2018; however, battleground voters are split on whether they support expanding government’s role.  

  • Coronavirus an emerging issue. We also asked voters about the coronavirus outbreak. A majority of likely voters in all three states are very or somewhat concerned about a large coronavirus outbreak (56% in MI; 56% in WI; 62.5% in PA). However, an overwhelming majority of likely voters aren’t changing any plans due to coronavirus just yet (MI: 79% are not changing plans; PA: 72.4%; WI:81%). Trump has net positive approval on his handling of coronavirus so far (MI: net 15.6 points; PA: 11.7 points; WI: 7.5 points) even despite his relatively low overall approval rating in those same states (MI: net +2.9 points; PA -4.5 points; WI: -4.5 points) 

KEY POINT: Most voters say they are concerned about the coronavirus, but so far it’s not impacting most people’s plans or hurting Trump’s poll numbers.

Methodology Summary: The Firehouse/0ptimus survey was conducted 3/5 through 3/7 and interviewed 1,582 likely 2020 general election voters in Wisconsin (N = 502), Michigan (N = 550), and Pennsylvania (N = 533) via live landline (WI: 170; MI: 158; PA: 162), live cellphone (WI: 170; MI: 169; PA: 173), and peer to peer text message to web (WI: 161; MI: 223; PA: 198). 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 modeled 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 ± 4.7% in WI, ± 4.6% in MI, and ± 5.0% in PA for the topline results.

Our full methodology statement is available on our GitHub repository.