CNN polls take voters’ pulse in two states that flipped blue in 2020


Voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania – two states that flipped from red to blue in the 2020 presidential election – begin this year’s general election campaign more dissatisfied than pleased with the candidates they have to choose from, with a fairly small but crucial share saying they are open to changing their minds on the race, according to new CNN polling conducted by SSRS.

The surveys of registered voters find a dead-even race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in Pennsylvania (46% each), with Trump ahead in Michigan (50% Trump to 42% Biden). Both polls were fielded after Trump and Biden each clinched enough delegates to win their party’s nomination for president, according to CNN’s estimates.

The polls suggest that in this rematch with Trump, Biden’s winning 2020 coalition may now be more intact in Pennsylvania than in Michigan. The Pennsylvania poll finds Biden leading among women, voters of color, college graduates and independents, and running about even with Trump among voters younger than 35. In Michigan, though, women split about evenly, Biden’s margin among voters of color is narrower and he trails Trump by significant margins among independents and young voters. In both states, Biden holds on to about 9 in 10 of his self-described 2020 supporters, while Trump keeps slightly more of his own 2020 voters.

Sizing up their choices in the rematch between Biden and Trump, most voters in both states say they’ve already decided, but about a quarter in each state say they could change their minds between now and the election. That’s more than enough to swing the eventual outcome in these two pivotal states, both of which Biden won by slim margins in 2020.

There’s even more room for movement among a few key subgroups: In Michigan, 45% of independents and 41% of voters younger than 35 say they’re less than solidly decided, and it’s 32% of independents and 34% of younger voters in Pennsylvania.

Fewer than half of voters in either state say they are satisfied with their choices in the presidential race (47% in Pennsylvania, 46% in Michigan). In Michigan, satisfaction has dropped since a fall survey was conducted as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s now-suspended campaign for the GOP nomination gained traction, but before any nominating contests were held (53% were satisfied in that survey). That decline is steepest among independents (from 46% satisfied in the fall poll to 29% satisfied now), with a smaller dip among Republicans (from 71% to 65%).

Majorities of voters in both states say that a second Trump term would bring fundamental changes to the US, while only about a quarter say the same about a second Biden term. Biden’s own supporters are less likely than Trump’s backers to say a second Biden term would bring fundamental change, while both Biden and Trump supporters say a second Trump term would bring dramatic shifts to the country. In both states, more see the change Trump might bring as a good thing than a bad one. For Biden, just over 4 in 10 in each state say a second term would not bring much change at all, and those who do see change split a bit more evenly over whether it’s for good or for ill.

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In both states, the race is shaping up more as a referendum on the former president than on the current one. Majorities of Trump’s supporters in both places say their vote is largely to express support for him rather than opposition to Biden, while Biden’s backers say they are motivated more by opposition to Trump.

And despite Biden’s underwater approval ratings in both states (just 40% of voters in Pennsylvania approve of his performance and only 35% in Michigan), he hangs on to the support of double-digit shares of those who disapprove of his work as president (12% who disapprove in Pennsylvania support him in a matchup with Trump, as do 13% in Michigan). In 2020, according to exit polling, Trump won just 2% of those who disapproved of his performance as president in each of these states and turned out to vote.

A hypothetical four-way matchup including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Cornel West in addition to Trump and Biden suggests significant support for Kennedy in both states. In Pennsylvania, 40% choose Trump, 38% Biden, 16% Kennedy and 4% West, while in Michigan, it stands at 40% Trump, 34% Biden, 18% Kennedy and 4% West. In both states, fewer than one-fifth of those backing candidates other than Biden or Trump say they are enthusiastic about their choice, with about half in each state saying they back their candidate mostly because they don’t like their other options.

Both Biden and Trump are viewed unfavorably by majorities of Michigan and Pennsylvania voters, and about 1 in 6 in each state are so-called “double-haters,” holding an unfavorable view of both Biden and Trump (17% in Michigan, 18% in Pennsylvania). In the hypothetical matchup including third party candidates, a plurality of these double-negative voters in each state break for Kennedy, despite large shares of that group also saying they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion.

Most voters say they expect that Biden and Trump will still be their party’s nominees by the time the presidential election happens (55% say that’s extremely likely in Michigan, 60% in Pennsylvania). About two-thirds of Biden supporters say it’s extremely likely in both states, while 56% of Trump backers in PA and 49% in Michigan feel the same.

Asked to assess how well each candidate aligns with their expectations on policy positions, empathy, temperament and sharpness and stamina, registered voters in each state are similarly negative about Biden’s and Trump’s policies and ability to understand the problems of people like them. Biden scores particularly poorly on sharpness and stamina, and Trump sees his worst numbers on temperament. Roughly two-thirds in each state say Biden’s sharpness and stamina is not what they want to see in a president (69% in Michigan, 64% in Pennsylvania), and broad majorities, 61% in both states, say Trump’s temperament is not what they want in a president.

About half of Pennsylvania voters and 44% in Michigan say that, if true, the charges Trump faces related to attempts to overturn the 2020 election disqualify him from serving as president, outpacing the roughly 4 in 10 in each state who see the charges as not relevant to his ability to serve, with the rest saying they cast doubts on his fitness for the job but are not disqualifying.

Trump’s false post-2020 claims that the election outcome was rigged against him have raised broad doubts among his supporters about the validity of the election process this cycle. More than 7 in 10 Trump supporters in each state say they believe the false claim that Biden did not legitimately win enough votes to become president in 2020. And looking ahead, Biden’s supporters in both states are about 60 points more likely than Trump backers to say they are very confident that the votes in this year’s presidential election will be accurately cast and counted.

About 4 in 10 voters in both states call the economy their top issue as they consider their choice for president, while protecting democracy, with about a quarter naming it, rates second. Immigration and abortion are also cited by more than 10% of voters in each state. Protecting democracy is the top issue for Biden voters in both states, while for Trump’s voters, it’s the economy by a wide margin. More than 20% of women who back Biden in both states say abortion and reproductive rights is their top issue, significantly higher than for other voters.

Asked which of the two major candidates would do a better job handling several top issues, voters prefer Trump over Biden by wide margins in both states on the economy, immigration and the situation in Israel and Gaza. Trump holds a somewhat narrower edge over Biden on handling the US role in world affairs. Biden tops Trump by a wide margin in both states as better able to handle abortion policies, and he is more trusted than Trump in Pennsylvania on handling democracy in the US. Voters in Michigan, however, split about evenly between the two on that issue.

The two states each have Democratic-held US Senate seats on their ballot this fall. Democrats’ narrow majority in the chamber means the GOP could win control of the Senate with as little as one flipped seat, depending on the outcome of the presidential contest. Voters in both states diverge on whether a GOP takeover of the Senate would be good or bad for the country: 45% of Michigan voters say the country would be better off if Republicans win control of the Senate in November, 35% say the country would be worse off and 20% no difference, while in Pennsylvania, it’s 42% worse off, 38% better off and 19% no difference.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, who is running for reelection, is largely seen positively (33% favorable, 25% unfavorable, 42% no opinion), while his top GOP opponent, David McCormick, remains largely unknown (13% favorable, 17% unfavorable, 70% no opinion).

In Michigan, neither of the major candidates for what will be an open seat – Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced her retirement last year – are particularly well-known, nor are their most prominent challengers. Majorities say they don’t have any opinion of Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin or former GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, and those who do have an opinion are largely divided on whether it’s positive or negative. Actor Hill Harper, who is running for the Democratic nod, is even less recognized than Slotkin (about 86% have no opinion). On the GOP side, former Rep. Peter Meijer has similar name recognition to Rogers, but former Rep. Justin Amash, who became an independent before leaving the House but is running for the GOP nomination, is broadly unknown (83% have no opinion of him).

These CNN polls were conducted online and by telephone by SSRS from March 13 to 18. In Michigan, a random sample of 1,097 registered voters was surveyed, and in Pennsylvania, it was a random sample of 1,132 registered voters. Results for the full sample in Michigan have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points; it is 3.8 points for results in Pennsylvania.

This headline has been updated.

CNN’s Ed Wu and Nicholas Anastacio contributed to this report.

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