In the final stretch of the campaign, we find three Southern battlegrounds that could still go either way. Our estimates show Joe Biden with just a two-point edge over President Trump in Florida, Biden up four points in North Carolina, and the contest even in Georgia.
Millions have already voted and many others say they've already decided. While early voters in each state told us they substantially favored Biden, those who have not yet voted heavily favor Mr. Trump, setting up a key turnout test running now through Election Day for both parties.
Each side has very different views about the nature of the problems facing the country, which is one reason there doesn't appear to be much room for people to change their minds now. In one example, most Trump voters are worried the country will become too socialist. Most Biden voters worry the country will become too authoritarian.
And very different views on the coronavirus pandemic still shape the race in all these states. In all, most Biden voters are very concerned about getting it, and Mr. Trump's voters, by comparison, are far less concerned. Biden also gets better marks overall on how he would handle the outbreak.
Each set of supporters also has different criteria shaping their vote. Biden voters are more likely to say that a candidate's personal character is a major factor in it. In Florida, for example, eight in 10 Biden voters say it is — compared to just 35% of Trump voters. For Trump voters, the economy and immigration are the major factors.
And while the economy continues to be an area where the president does better than Biden, it's not enough to propel him into a vote preference lead, at least not yet.
And Biden leads among voters who have already cast their ballot, while Mr. Trump leads among likely voters who have yet to vote.
What's changed from 2016?
White voters: In each of these states, Biden's share of the White vote is currently larger than Clinton's was in 2016. And there has been a shift among White voters with college degrees in particular — a pattern we've seen across the battleground states. In 2016, Mr. Trump won this group by double digits in all three states. Now Biden leads among them in North Carolina, is neck and neck with Mr. Trump in Florida, and has dramatically reduced the president's margin in Georgia.
Biden currently leads among White women with college degrees in Florida and North Carolina, and across all three states, it's not the lead that tells the story, it's the shifts from four years ago that does. Biden's 52% in Florida is up from 37% that Clinton got; his 45% in Georgia up from 34% from Clinton; his 56% in North Carolina is 11 points better than Clinton.
In Georgia, White voters without college degrees — both men and women — tend to like how Mr. Trump handles himself personally and dislike Biden's approach. These voters were a big part of Mr. Trump's winning coalition in 2016, and they continue to back him in strong numbers. White evangelicals, who made up more than a third of the electorate in Georgia and North Carolina in 2016, continue to support the president by large majorities in these states.
Black and Hispanic voters: In Florida, Biden's support among Black voters (92%), is higher than the 84% who backed Clinton — and a bit closer to Barack Obama's margins in 2008 and 2012. In Georgia and North Carolina, Biden is getting a level of Black voter support similar to what Clinton's was. Biden continues to lead among Latino voters in Florida by a margin similar to Clinton's.
Seniors and young voters: Biden is cutting into Mr. Trump's 2016 margins with seniors in Florida and Georgia, cutting the president's 2016 advantage in half. In North Carolina, Biden has a two-point edge with seniors, a group Mr. Trump won by 23 points in 2016.
Other voter groups have shifted, too. Though they traditionally make up a smaller voting block than older voters, there is also a larger shift among younger voters in Florida to the Democratic column. Biden leads by 39 points among voters under 30, which is more than double Hillary Clinton's 18-point advantage among this group four years ago.
Urbanity: The more diverse urban areas of these states favor Biden, while rural areas favor Mr. Trump, with the suburbs a battleground in which younger, non-White voters are mostly voting for Joe Biden and older White voters are voting for Mr. Trump.
As we've seen in other battlegrounds, more like the way Biden handles himself personally than say that about Mr. Trump. This is in contrast to the 2016 campaign when both presidential candidates were viewed negatively. In North Carolina, where Biden has an edge, most voters who backed Mr. Trump in 2016 like how the president handles himself personally. But among those who do not, Mr. Trump loses 31% of them to Biden, a higher defection rate than the other two states.
But in these states there are about one in five voters who dislike the way the president handles himself personally but are voting for him anyway. For these voters, the economy is paramount for them, it is the top factor in their vote — far ahead of personal character — and they overwhelmingly think Mr. Trump would do a better job handling it.
On personal characteristics, Mr. Trump gets relatively high marks on being strong, but low on being compassionate. Biden gets higher numbers on being compassionate and respectful. Slightly more voters describe Biden as truthful than Mr. Trump, but in none of these states do a majority of voters call either candidate truthful.
Mr. Trump's "law and order" message is resonating with many White voters, but Black voters react differently. When he talks about "law and order," half of Whites in North Carolina and nearly two-thirds in Georgia feel like he is trying to protect people like them, but more than seven in 10 Black voters feel he is trying to make things more dangerous for people like them.
The president has been trying to win over suburban women voters with this "law and order" message, but most suburban women in Georgia and North Carolina, with whom Biden leads overall, don't think Mr. Trump is trying to protect people like them when he talks about it. Those supporting the president do, but on balance, fewer than half agree.
Mr. Trump's voters, perhaps in keeping with his campaign's message, overwhelmingly believe that Biden's family profited from Biden being vice president. Biden's voters, in turn, think that Mr. Trump's family has profited from his time in office. Independents are more mixed about each of them, and the views correlate with vote, suggesting that perhaps these themes are resonating with each set of existing supporters.
Republican senators are playing defense in the key battlegrounds of North Carolina and Georgia.
In North Carolina, Republican Senator Thom Tillis continues to trail Democrat Cal Cunningham, but the race has tightened since we last polled this race in September. Cunningham is now ahead by six points, down from the 10-point lead he enjoyed last month, as Tillis picked up some support from undecided voters.
Neither candidate has an edge when it comes to how they handle themselves personally, with most voters disliking how each of the candidates behaves. But one possible bright spot for Cunningham: more North Carolinians want to see Republican members of Congress be more independent from Mr. Trump than be more in agreement with him.
The Georgia Senate race is nearly tied now, with Republican Senator David Perdue ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff by just one point. Ossoff has shored up support with Democrats and liberals since September, but he's also been able to pick up some moderate voters in the past few weeks.
More Georgia voters want to see Republicans in Congress be more independent from the president than in agreement with him, with more than half of moderates saying so.
These surveys were conducted on behalf of CBS News by YouGov between October 20-23, 2020. They are based on representative samples of 1,243 registered voters in Florida, 1,102 in Georgia, and 1,037 in North Carolina. Margins of error for likely voters are ±3.6 points in Florida, ±3.4 points in Georgia, and ±4.1 points.
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