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CBS News Battleground Tracker: National, Wisconsin contests steady amid protests; more think Biden trying to calm situation

COVID-19's impact on the electoral map
COVID-19's impact on the electoral map trends trouble for Trump 04:42

The presidential horse race remains unchanged by recent protests — Joe Biden still leads President Trump by the same margins nationally and in the battleground state of Wisconsin. 

Here's why: though neither candidate gets rave reviews for what they've said about the demonstrations, Biden is seen by more as trying to calm the situation, while the president is perceived by slightly more as encouraging fighting, rather than calming things down. And the larger notion that violence could come to "the suburbs" finds little concern among those who actually reside in the suburbs.


Moreover, it's also about the approach to those protests: by more than two to one, voters feel the way to end the them is to make police reforms and address discrimination, not to use law enforcement to punish protesters. Even the president's own backers aren't overly convinced the latter approach is better. 


Voters see the protests composed of a mix of well-intentioned demonstrators and people out for more destructive aims, but they appear to distinguish between the two: between the peaceful protesters — with whom, people say they can identify — and those destroying property, with whom they can't. And eight in 10 people in suburbs feel it's unlikely that violent protests would happen where they live.

More generally, it's Biden who leads on who'd make you feel safe. This is a general measure, not specifically about protests, but it speaks to the larger themes the campaigns are using.


But if the protests haven't moved the race, something else still could as we head into fall: it's comparisons on the economy where this race looks more competitive. 


The economy is a salient item: for those not backing Biden, their worry about what Biden would do on economics — not what he'd do on race, or policing — is foremost in their minds. 


But Biden does lead on ability to handle coronavirus, and his backers are most concerned about what Trump might do on that if he wins.


Among voters who say the protests are a major factor in their vote, Biden and Trump are running about even in Wisconsin — not much different from last month. Nationally, Biden leads among this group by five points. 


In Wisconsin and nationally, Biden's handling of recent protests about the treatment of African Americans by police is met with slightly higher approval than President Trump's. 


More voters in Wisconsin see the intentions of most of the protestors as trying to change police treatment of minorities and raise awareness about racial discrimination. Republicans differ in that they are more inclined to say the protestors are trying to destroy property or overthrow the government.

The big picture: What is the election about?

As in many incumbent elections, voters tell us 2020 still very much looks like a referendum on Donald Trump, for good or bad, in this sense: 

Asked what they're voting on, the retrospective dominates the prospective. It is Trump's performance over the last four years, more so than anything Trump might do with another four, or what Biden might do if he wins, that most people tell us is foremost in their decision. This is especially true for Republicans.


Meanwhile Biden's voters are still largely motivated in opposition to Trump, even more so than because they like Biden. While there was some small short-term movement on that right after the convention, the president has returned to being a more central point in their thinking.

Most Democrats think things are going badly in America right now and more than eight in 10 of them think President Trump bears "a lot" of responsibility for that. Many Republicans feel things are going badly too, but most of them don't hold the president responsible for that.

Comparing the candidates

Biden greatly outpaces Mr. Trump on the qualities of having "the right temperament," and "cares about people." Mr. Trump is seen as having more energy. And Biden continues to get more positive reviews than Mr. Trump on how he handles himself personally.


The coronavirus

Meanwhile, negative reactions to the Trump administration's COVID response continue to shape votes, and public views run counter to many administration's arguments.

Even as some questioned the extent of fatalities, it's the relative measure that matters: More feel the administration's policies are to blame for making the outbreak worse than deserve credit for holding back the extent of it.


More say fatalities could have been lower, with earlier planning, than might have been higher were it not for the effective actions taken.

And perhaps most ominously, by almost twenty points, more think the outbreak is going to get worse than better this fall.


But not all see the virus as totally linked to the economy: only Democrats believe the economy cannot recover until COVID is under control. Republicans overwhelmingly disagree and independents marginally do. 

Views of candidates solidify

Mr. Trump and Biden both come out of their conventions with robust support from their current voters, with almost nine in 10 each saying their support is very strong, with Biden's up a bit more. And with less than two months before the election, motivation to vote is high among both Democratic and Republican voters.


Biden maintains his lead over Mr. Trump nationally and is also ahead in Wisconsin, as he was in early August, and his estimate is now 50%.


Biden continues to hold a double-digit lead over Mr. Trump with women, and the race remains close among men. In Wisconsin, Biden has a 9-point lead with White women, wider than the 2-point margin Hillary Clinton had in 2016. Mr. Trump maintains his lead with White men but it is narrower than this 2016 margin.


On the protests, women voters in Wisconsin (including white women) give Biden more positive marks than Mr. Trump on handling the protests, while men tend to give the president higher marks. 

We continue to see a divide among White voters by education, with college graduates backing Biden and those without a degree supporting Mr. Trump. However, Mr. Trump's margin among the latter group is substantially smaller than it was four years ago. In Wisconsin, Trump has actually lost more ground among White, non-college voters than among White college graduates, which is a key reason the state currently leans Democratic.


With eight weeks to go until the election, Republicans are more likely to say their candidate is campaigning enough than Democrats are to say that about theirs. Four in 10 Democrats feel Biden isn't campaigning enough. Half of Independents agree with them.

These surveys were conducted on behalf of CBS News by YouGov between September 2-4 2020. They are based on representative samples of 2,493 registered voters nationwide and 1,006 registered voters in Wisconsin. Margins of error for registered voters: National: +/- 2.4 points, Wisconsin +/- 3.7 points.


Wisconsin toplines:

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