Donald Trump could lose the US election over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, pollsters have suggested.
With three weeks to go until the November 3 election, Covid-19 remains “front and centre” for the American voting public, and how the administration has dealt with the pandemic looks set to be the deciding issue.
More than 215,000 people in the US have died after testing positive for the virus.
Ipsos USA, a public opinion specialist, interviewed thousands of Americans to understand the key issues they will be voting on.
Mallory Newall, public affairs director, told the PA news agency the election would be a “referendum on the president”.
She said: “Unfortunately for the president, most Americans feel that Joe Biden is best on having a plan to help the nation recover.
“This is an election that’s going to be about the pandemic. And if that’s how the Biden campaign can frame it, then that probably gives them an advantage.”
According to Ipsos polls, the former vice president has a 10-point lead on the incumbent. However, as in 2016, the vote looks like it will come down to six key states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida.
But polls are not an accurate prediction of what will happen on election day, and traditionally the sitting president has an advantage when it comes to a second-term election. In another closely run race, Ipsos predictions currently give President Trump 50-50 odds of being re-elected.
Ms Newall said: “Polls are a snapshot in time, they’re designed to tell us how the American public views the race right now, not necessarily predicting what we think is going to happen on election day.”
Pollsters were criticised for not predicting the wave of support that carried Mr Trump into office in 2016.
However, Ms Newall emphasised that election forecasting and national polling are “really two different things”.
She said: “People love to talk about the polling going wrong in 2016. But if you actually look, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of about two percentage points.
“The final polls had Hillary Clinton ahead about two or three points. So not that far off from where the popular vote was.
“This time around, national polling has been remarkably consistent. The lead that Joe Biden has held over President Trump really hasn’t shifted that much.
“Furthermore, Joe Biden has been hovering at, or in the case of (last) week, just above that magical 50% threshold, which is somewhere that Hillary Clinton never got in 2016.”
Mr Trump’s approval rating has remained in the mid to low 40% range for several years.
Ms Newall said: “Views of the president are really entrenched and already baked in — people know how they feel about him.”
America continues to be extremely polarised, with fewer undecided voters up for grabs than in 2016. While healthcare, the economy and jobs continue to be key issues, there is a party split on priorities.
“Democrats tend to prioritise health care a bit more, whereas Republicans are more consolidated around jobs in the economy as the main problem,” said Ms Newall.
There is also a growing partisan split on how voters will physically be voting, with Democrats more likely to say they plan to vote early, by mail or absentee ballot, and Republicans more likely to vote in person due to concerns over voter fraud.
While it is hard to speculate about how the election would be unfolding had the pandemic not happened, Ms Newall said polls in January showed Mr Trump had a slight advantage.
She said: “He was seen as doing well when it comes to dealing with the economy, when it comes to jobs and unemployment. Those continue to be strong subjects for the president, but people are less bullish about that right now as they were at the beginning of the year.
“So as a pollster, I can’t sit here and say, you know, what would have happened if Covid-19 weren’t a thing? I think, ultimately, we can just look at the landscape as it is now. And show that the more that this election is about the pandemic, the less favours it does for the president at the moment.”