Latest Michigan poll numbers indicate a worrisome trend for Joe Biden

Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press

Joe Biden's lead in the Free Press' latest Michigan poll is significant but the underlying poll data indicates some trends which, if they continue or grow, should be deeply worrisome for the Democratic nominee.

While support among white voters remained constant from the last poll done by EPIC-MRA of Lansing in July with Biden about even with Trump at 46%-44%, among Black voters, Biden's support dropped from 89% to 76%. While that didn't translate into greater support for Trump — he was at 3% in both polls — it did indicate a much larger percentage of undecideds or those backing third-party candidates — 21% — compared with 7% in July.

That trend was also borne out in the level of support indicated in the city of Detroit, where the majority of voters are Black: Biden led Trump 68%-6% with 23% undecided. Because of the relatively small numbers of Black and/or Detroit voters polled as part of the 600 voter sample — about 60 — the potential margin of error would be much larger than the plus or minus 4 percentage points for the entire poll, meaning Biden's level of support could still be far greater. But if for any reason large numbers of Black voters in Detroit declined to vote for Biden, it could turn the election for Trump, without question.

MoreJoe Biden leads Donald Trump in Michigan by 8 points in new poll

"That could be very troublesome for the Biden campaign and the Democrats," said EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn. "I'm not sure what's driving it."

In 2016, when Trump narrowly won Michigan, then Democratic-nominee Hillary Clinton got some 47,000 fewer votes out of Detroit than President Barack Obama had in 2012, even while winning in the city with 95% of the vote.

The poll indicated that levels of support among whites who did not attend college remained with Trump 54% to 36% for Biden, while whites who attended college supported Biden 55%-36%, essentially mirroring the July numbers.

But among nonwhite voters who didn't attend college, support for Biden dropped dramatically, from 75% to 49%, even as it dropped for Trump from 22% to 18%, while the percentage of undecided voters or those supporting a third-party ballooned from 4% to 34%. Among nonwhite voters who went to college, support for Biden dropped from 75% to 65%, while support for Trump stayed mostly constant at 23%. Undecided voters and third-party supporters rose from 4% to 13%.

Again, the numbers of these nonwhite voters included in the sample was small — 118 total — but the potential for it having an effect on the election if it were to be accurate could be big.

Meanwhile, Biden — whose overall lead in Michigan dropped from 51%-40% in the last EPIC-MRA poll to 48%-40% in the latest one — faces some other potentially troubling trends as well.

Independent voters split along gender lines

Overall, the survey indicated that among self-described independent voters who don't lean toward one party of the other — a bloc which made up about 11% of the total sample — was about evenly split, with 42% for Biden and 40% for Trump.

That, in itself, was a small win for Trump, since he'd been trailing 43%-36% among this swing bloc in the last poll. Ten percent were backing a third-party candidate, up from 6% in July, and 8% said they were undecided, down from 15%.

The biggest drop for Biden was among independent men, with support for him falling from 43% in July — when he was even with Trump — to 25%, and Trump's support increasing to 48%. Third party support and undecided voters grew from 16% to 27%.

Again, because of the very small sample of these voters, the potential margin of error would be great, so any conclusions should take that into consideration. 

And Biden can take solace in the fact that, among independent women, his support went from 44% in July to 70% in September, while Trump's fell from 31% to 26%.

Biden continues to hold support among most groups

Most of the underlying data is far from dire for the former vice president, since he continues to hold a sizable lead, 57%-30%, overall in metro Detroit's Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. For Biden, that's better than the 56% of the vote from the region Hillary Clinton got in 2016; more significantly, Trump's percentage is well under the 40% of the vote he got in the region.

Trump leads 45%-44% in the rest of the state, with 6% backing a third party candidate and 5% undecided, according to the poll. But that's well beneath the 52%-42% support Trump had in the 2016 election while beating Clinton outside of metro Detroit.

Biden continues to hold a clear lead among women, too, 54%-34%, up slightly from July; though among men overall he's down from 49% to 43% for Trump in July, to a nearly-even 45% for Trump to 43% for Biden. Among different age groups of men and women, Biden holds leads or is even with almost all of them: 61%-26% among women 18-49; 51%-38% among women over 50; and 46%-44% among men over 50. 

Only among men under 50 does he trail Trump 45%-40%.

Overall, Biden led with all voters under the age of 50, 48%-38%, with 13% undecided or backing a third-party candidate, though that was down from a 55%-32% lead he had in July. Among voters over the age of 50, Biden led 49%-41% with 11% undecided, though that was somewhat better than the 47%-46% margin two months ago.

Trump voters more likely to vote in person

Asked how they plan to vote this fall, a majority of those surveyed, 52%, said they will vote by absentee ballot, which has been attacked by Trump as corrupt, even though there is no evidence of widespread corruption in mail-in voting and Trump does it himself. 

The poll suggested a good reason for Trump to attack mail-in voting, however.

Among those who plan to vote absentee, 66% said they were supporting Biden, compared with only 23% who plan to back Trump. Another 11% were either backing a third party or undecided.

Among the 46% who said they plan to vote in person on Nov. 3, the support was reversed: Trump got 59% of that bloc's support, and Biden got 28%. Another 12% was undecided or backing a third party.

Voters think racism is serious, but don't necessarily link that to Trump

While many critics of the president have chastised him for racist remarks he has made in the past, it was clear from the poll that a significant number don't consider the seriousness of racism a bar to voting to reelect the president.

As part of one question on the poll, 75% of those surveyed said they felt systemic racism is a somewhat or serious societal problem. But nearly a quarter of them, 24%, said they plan to support Trump in November's election, even as Biden got the support of most of them, 62%.

Among Michiganders who said they did not consider racism to be a serious problem, Trump had the support of 92% to 2% for Biden.

COVID concerns remain a top priority

Questions and concerns around the ongoing coronavirus pandemic remained a top concern with 25% saying their top priority was reopening the economy and schools and 22% saying their concern was protecting public health by reducing COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump did better — 81% to 11% for Biden — among those who ranked their economic and school concerns at the top; while Biden had the support of 89% of those who said public health was the priority compared with 3% for Trump.

Overall, 67% of those surveyed said they were still somewhat or greatly concerned about them or a family member getting infected. A third had little or no concern.

Fifty-five percent said they knew someone who had been diagnosed with COVID. And 86% claimed to always wear a mask when outside of their home, compared with 5% who said they never did, despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order.

Amid the pandemic, Whitmer also continued to get stronger marks than the president, with 56% giving her a positive job rating to 44% who gave her a negative one. Trump was at 43% positive and 57% negative.

Contact Todd Follow him on Twitter@tsspangler. Read more onMichigan politics and sign up for ourelections newsletter.