President Donald Trump trails his top Democratic opponents in a new poll of a key Pennsylvania swing county, though most voters surveyed have positive feelings about the economy, usually a predictor of reelection strength.
Trump is running narrowly behind most of the Democratic contenders in Erie County, a longtime Democratic stronghold that swung dramatically his way in 2016. Erie was one of three Pennsylvania counties that voted for Barack Obama before swinging to Trump, helping put the state in the Republican column for the first time since 1988.
An important question in the 2020 election is whether Trump can hold on to those voters who abandoned Democrats last time, or if they turn away from him. The poll from Mercyhurst University, in Erie, found the following results in the county in hypothetical matchups between Trump and top Democratic candidates:
Mike Bloomberg 51, Trump 41.
Bernie Sanders 50, Trump 44.
Joe Biden 48, Trump 44.
Amy Klobuchar 46, Trump 42.
Pete Buttigieg 46, Trump 42.
Elizabeth Warren 46, Trump 45.
The poll was conducted Feb. 10 to 18, before the Democratic debate in Nevada last week, in which Bloomberg endured a series of biting attacks from his rivals, and before Sanders added to his early momentum by winning the Nevada caucuses. It surveyed 454 registered voters in Erie County by telephone.
Some of the Democratic leads are also small enough to fall within the survey’s 4.6 percentage-point margin of error, and therefore statistically insignificant. And of course, months of campaigning could change the dynamics of the general election in November.
In some ways, the poll reflects the changing state of the Democratic race. Biden, the early front-runner, has seen his lead over Trump fall from 26 percentage points in September to 4 points. Sanders’ margin over Trump is about the same as in September.
“Less than four years ago, Erie County voters helped Trump win the presidency, so a tightening of the race was entirely expected,” said Joe Morris, director of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics. In 2016, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the county, 48 percent to 44 percent.
Despite potentially falling behind his rivals, the economy, one of Trump’s main calling cards, got positive reviews. Some 65% of Erie County voters described the nation’s economy as “excellent” or “good,” up from 58% in September. While most voters still say the local Erie County economy isn’t good, the 32% who rated it as “excellent” or “good” was almost triple the share from February 2017, a month after Trump took office.
“As long as the economy holds, we can expect a further tightening of the race," Morris said. “If this continues through the summer, it appears Erie County will once again be a battleground county.”