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3 Takeaways From the New York Times/Siena College Poll

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In a normal year, this would be Go Time for the political press. We would be crisscrossing the country, living out of suitcases and hotel minibars, trailing candidates as they hopscotched through rallies in swing states.

I suppose everyone is just drinking in their home offices now.

But, hey, at least we still have polls! The New York Times is conducting a whole slew of them between now and Election Day, with the first batch coming from likely voters in four key battleground states: Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

Beyond showing an enduring lead for Joe Biden, the results give a sense of how voters are processing some of the chaos of this unpredictable year — from the deadly coronavirus pandemic to the racial justice protests.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways:

President Trump is holding his advantage on the economy, but Mr. Biden is winning on the virus response.

Even in a recession, Mr. Trump has kept his lead on economic issues. In our poll, half of voters in Wisconsin and Minnesota said they believed the president would do a better job on the economy, compared with 45 percent who said the same about Mr. Biden. Some of that assessment probably stems from the enduring image among conservative voters of Mr. Trump as a successful businessman and deal maker.

While Mr. Biden hasn’t been able to outflank the president on economic issues, voters in those two critical states see him as a steadier hand to guide the country through the pandemic. Fifty-two percent said Mr. Biden would do a better job handling the coronavirus crisis, while only 41 percent said that about Mr. Trump.

A majority of voters in all four states also agree with Mr. Biden’s position on the virus, saying that the federal government’s priority should be to limit its spread, even if it hurts the economy.

Voters don’t buy Mr. Trump’s calls for “law and order,” but they do believe some of his false attacks on Mr. Biden over policing.

For weeks, Mr. Trump has warned that Democrats would unleash a national wave of anarchy, chaos and looting. While the poll shows signs of growing voter concern about violence, Mr. Trump’s message doesn’t seem to be connecting.

When asked whether the biggest problem in the country is “riots in American cities” or “racism in the criminal justice system,” half of voters said racism and 43 percent said riots. In Minnesota and Wisconsin — where George Floyd was killed and Jacob Blake was shot — 53 percent believe that Mr. Trump has encouraged violence in America. And more voters said they trusted Mr. Biden to better handle protests and race relations than the president.

But that doesn’t mean that Mr. Biden and his team should take a victory lap. Over all, voters were split over the questions of which candidate they trusted more to handle “law and order” and violent crime.

And some of Mr. Trump’s assault on Mr. Biden, while untrue, seems to be working. Forty-four percent of those surveyed in the two Midwestern states said Mr. Biden backed defunding the police — a position Mr. Biden has repeatedly said he does not hold. And 55 percent said Mr. Biden hadn’t done enough to condemn violent rioting, despite his clear denunciations of lawlessness.

Mr. Trump’s predictions of suburban chaos aren’t working in the suburbs.

Mr. Trump has made no secret of his desire to scare suburban voters into supporting him, trying to ignite racist fears about affordable housing to warn that Mr. Biden would destroy the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream.”

Suburbanites aren’t buying it: Across the four states, Mr. Biden is well ahead of Mr. Trump among voters who live in the suburbs. Majorities of suburban voters in Wisconsin and Minnesota say they are not concerned about the prospect of apartment building construction, subsidized housing developments or an influx of residents with government housing vouchers happening in their neighborhoods — all policies Mr. Trump has campaigned on stopping.

Mr. Trump’s ability to woo suburban voters could determine the election. Republicans have lost the suburbs only three times since 1980: in 1992, 1996 and 2008. Democrats won the presidency in all three of those years.


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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Jerry Brown kept checking his weather app. The former governor of California, who has long warned of the impending disaster of global warming, was at his ranch north of Sacramento and he could see the air quality wasn’t particularly good because of the nearby wildfires. Or rather, he could tell how bad it was by what he could not see.

“I’ve never seen such an obscure view of the mountains 1,000 yards away from me,” Mr. Brown told me on the phone from Williams, Calif., on Sunday. “It’s very obscure. I see the oak trees. It’s very hard to see the mountains. So this is bad. Everyone is looking at their weather app here.”

Which he did. “I go to my weather app,” Mr. Brown said. “I go to Williams. I see unhealthy air.” With a little more investigation, he realized to his astonishment that the air where he lived was worse than in Los Angeles, once the symbol of smog. (The air in Los Angeles is as bad as it has been in decades, but because the fires are farther away, not as bad as in most of the state.)

Mr. Brown spoke on the eve of President Trump’s visit to California. Mr. Trump on Monday blamed poor forest management for the wildfires. But Mr. Brown said the blazes were a stark reminder of the long-term costs of Mr. Trump’s aggressive campaign to repeal environmental protections.

“Trump is acting in ways that are deeply detrimental to America and to the people of the world by virtue of his climate denial and his relentless campaign to undermine even the most sensible climate action,” Mr. Brown said in our interview. “He’s also contributing to the air pollution and the deterioration of people’s health.”

Would Mr. Brown have said that face-to-face with Mr. Trump if he, rather than Gavin Newsom, were still governor and greeting him on the visit on Monday?

Perhaps not. “Whether you tell him that now when you are asking for billions of dollars — I think I’d wait a couple of days,” Mr. Brown said.


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