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Biden maintains an edge over Trump in new Pa. poll, as pessimism over coronavirus and the economy looms

The new poll comes as Trump visits Pennsylvania twice this week. Biden delivered a televised speech Sunday from Philadelphia.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks Sunday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks Sunday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.Read moreCarolyn Kaster / AP

Pennsylvania voters are closely tuned into the 2020 election, pessimistic about the coronavirus, the economy, and their own personal finances — and currently giving Joe Biden the edge over President Donald Trump, according to a new poll.

The Franklin & Marshall College survey released Thursday showed the former vice president and Democratic nominee with a six-point lead over Trump among likely voters, 48% to 42%. Seven out of 10 voters are “very interested” in the race.

Voters continue to give Trump a slight edge over Biden on handling the economy, 48% to 46%. Biden is favored by a majority of voters on other issues like the coronavirus (50%), the military (53%), foreign policy (52%), and racial issues (54%.)

Fifty-two percent find Biden “honest and trustworthy,” while just 28% see Trump that way, according to the poll.

An average of Pennsylvania polling compiled by RealClearPolitics has shown the race narrowing in the state, with Biden ahead by 3.8 percentage points, within the margin of error for some surveys. That average was 5.5 points when Franklin & Marshall released its August poll.

“The race has tightened a bit,” pollster G. Terry Madonna said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

The survey of 625 registered voters, including 480 likely voters, conducted Sept. 14 to 20, has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 percentage points.

» READ MORE: How ‘naked ballots’ in Pennsylvania could cost Joe Biden the election

The new poll comes as Trump visits Pennsylvania twice this week — in Pittsburgh on Tuesday and in Middletown, near Harrisburg, on Saturday. Biden delivered a televised speech Sunday from Philadelphia on the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and filling her seat. He was due to campaign Wednesday by “virtual bus tour,” seeking support from the state’s Latino voters.

Trump and Biden are in a battle for a shrinking number of undecided voters in the state’s suburbs and exurbs. Just 8% of voters said they are undecided about the race, while 97% of Biden’s supporters say they have definitely chosen him, and 92% of Trump supporters plan to stick with him.

The poll also found far fewer voters interested in third-party presidential candidates than in September 2016. That year, the number of voters who ultimately cast their ballots for Green Party candidate Jill Stein was slightly higher than Trump’s narrow margin of victory in the state. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just 44,000 votes in 2016, or 0.7%.

Pennsylvania is increasingly seen as one of the states most likely to determine the winner this year.

» READ MORE: 5 questions that will help decide the presidential race in Pennsylvania

Almost half of voters, 49%, say Pennsylvania is headed in the wrong direction. That pessimism has been on the rise in previous F&M polls, but had not hit those same levels since September 2017, when it was 48%. That poll three years ago captured sentiment following white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va.

The linked issues of the coronavirus (25%), personal finances (14%), and the economy (10%) accounted for half of all concerns voters listed as most important in the state in Thursday’s poll.

Trump continues to be the dominant force in the race on both sides of the electorate: 84% of his supporters say their vote is about him, while 56% of Biden’s supporters say they are primarily voting against Trump.

The president has falsely attacked mail ballots as being susceptible to widespread fraud, even as his campaign, the Republican National Committee, and the state Republican Party have urged voters to use them.

A majority of those polled, 58%, said they favor the use of mail ballots, while 38% opposed them. And 59% said they are confident the state’s vote tally will be accurate if mail ballots are widely used, while 40% said they are not confident.

There is a clear partisan split on that question: Just 32% of Republicans expressed that confidence, compared with 83% of Democrats and 51% of independents.

Madonna noted that 60% of the voters said they intend to vote in person on Nov. 3, while 37% will use mail ballots.

“That does surprise me,” he said. “I thought more people would do mail-in ballots."